Seventy-Nine Years Of Racing At Le Mans

This 79th Le Mans will be a epic rematch of fierce rivals, Audi and Peugeot. I expect to watch Audi and Peugeot dominate, as they have in recent years, especially with Audi running its new R-18 TDI, the car that replaces the winning R-15 from last year.

Mike Rockenfeller, Timo Bernard and Romain Dumas will go for two in a row for Audi at Le Mans. Timo Bernard put the R-18 on the pole at this year’s first race at SPA; but issues with the race set up led to a defeat by Peugeot. Now, Bernard contends the Audi R-18 is set to outperform its rival at Le Mans. Adding to the team’s confidence, Mike Rockenfeller-who won Le Mans last year, just won his first DTM race in 41 starts at Zandvoort, Netherlands.

My question is why Audi did not run the R-18 at Sebring? After testing the car for weeks before the Sebring race, Audi decided to run the R-15, claiming a lack of spare parts for its new model. A month later, 3 of the R-18’s were ready for SPA, but Audi’s decision at Sebring left it without race condition information on the R-18’s performance.

All of the drivers really like the R-18, but the close cockpit in the car takes some getting used to, along with the limited vision and blind spots reported. Dindo Capello told me that he has been in an open cockpit for 10 years but is working on getting comfortable and says he is ready for Le Mans. Tom Kristensen, driving with Audi teammates Dindo Capello and Alan McNish, is looking for his 9th win at Le Mans, the last in 2008.

The 2011 race heralds the first major revisions to the Le Mans regulations since 2007. Consistent with the dawning of environmental consciousness, the 2011 will see the extensive use of hybrid vehicles and only hybrids will be allowed to use four wheel drive. Non-hybrids will be two-wheel drive, specifically rear wheel drive. Another interesting change is the LMP bodywork, which must have a Formula One-type vertical fin on the top of the engine cover. This will reduce the tendency of the car to become airborne and flip. There were three such crashes in the 1999 race with the Mercedes-Benz CLR, the most famous by Peter Dumbreck.

There has been a 56th pit constructed that was designed for the 56th entry in the 2010 race; there will be 56 spaces for the 2011 race. Unlike 2010, the 56th pit beginning 2011 will be a car from outside the ACO rules and regulations and any Le Mans series on the condition that it uses environmentally friendly technology. I’m looking forward to the greenest Le Mans ever!

The world’s oldest sports car race will have to wait for any participation from Honda. Last week, Honda backed out of the race, citing the massive impact of the earthquake and tsunami. David (Brabham) and Marino (Franchitti) were left without a ride for the race.

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