Strong local showing among Le Mans drivers

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FORMER Buckingham University student Marc Gene will be driving for firm favourites Audi in the world famous Le Mans 24-hour race this weekend, write James and Colin Beckett. As the dominant manufacturer in endurance racing in recent years, Audi has four cars entered this year 80th edition of the race. Gene, winner at Le Mans in 2009, driving for Peugeot, joined the Audi squad in April as their reserve driver after Peugeot’s withdrawal from the sport. He raced at Spa as replacement for the injured Timo Bernhard, winning the Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps and was quickly confirmed as a race driver for this weekend’s event.

Gene will drive the number 3 Audi R18 Ultra alongside Romain Dumas and Loic Duval.

He said: “It is a great feeling to be back here at Le Mans. This place has a great atmosphere and I believe we are in good shape ahead of the race.

“The weather will be very important for every team this year. If you find yourself on a part of the track that is dry and other parts are wet then it can make or break your race as the lap here is so long.

“We are travelling at very high-speed for the majority of the lap and slower cars can also present a problem or two. But, that is what makes Le Mans so special.”

Audi’s main opposition comes in the form of Toyota and their new LMP1 prototype the TS 030-Hybrid.

Their two car attack will be headed by Brackley’s Anthony Davidson.

A former team-mate of Gene’s at Peugeot, Davidson also joins a new team for this race.

He shares his car with Sebastien Buemi and Stephane Sarrazin - a man who has claimed Le Mans pole position in the past.

Brackley are also represented in the LMP1 class by Karun Chandhok.

Chandhok will drive the JRM-entered HPD alongside David Brabham and Peter Dumbreck. This weekend marks Chandhok’s debut in the race.

He said: “I am really looking forward to the whole Le Mans experience. This is one race you must do as a professional driver and it is great to be part of it.”

Silverstone’s Status Grand Prix are also making their Le Mans debut with a Lola-Judd in the LMP2 class.

Their black and green machine will be driven by highly-rated former F3 racer Alexander Sims, Yelmer Buurman and Romain Iannetta.

The team missed the Spa round of the WEC after a testing accident, but after a successful test at Le Mans two weeks ago the team declare themselves in good shape for the big race.

Thornborough’s Danny Watts will lead the attack for the Whittlebury-based Strakka Racing team.

Fastest pure petrol-powered car in the pre-race test, Watts said: “I reckon we stand a great chance this year. The car is mega around Le Mans and we have good team experience. We believe a great result is possible.”

Watts will drive the Strakka HPD ARX 03a-Honda with Jonny Kane and team owner, Nick Leventis.

The car will carry the patriotic colours of the union flag and the team are proud to field the only all-British driver line-up in the race.

Watts, picture below, added: “We hope that the red, white and blue on the car will make the 80,000 British fans watching at the circuit cheer us to the best result possible. We are really up for it this year.”

The Le Mans 24-Hour Race starts at 2pm UK time Saturday afternoon.