This past weekend, the crown jewel of Audi’s 2013 racing season was campaigned. Making history last year as the first hybrid race car to win the 24-hour race, the Audi R18 e-tron quattro defended its accomplishment for a second-straight year at the Circuit de la Sarthe. Completing 348 laps worth 4742.89 kilometers around the 4.273-kilometer road course, Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Loïc Duval combined efforts to bring the #2 Audi prototype to a 12th win since the 2000 Le Mans race. As a team, Audi Sport Team Joest R18 e-tron quattro race machines claimed the first, third and fifth place positions in the 2013 edition of the French endurance classic.
For some, seeing the Audi Sport Team Joest organization once again celebrating a victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans was somewhat of a sleeper story. Despite the near magic of constantly winning a daylong endurance race, the competition in most of the Le Mans races contended since 2000 would consist of one Audi racing against another Audi prototype car. Even the company’s press release seemed to be taking the news of their 12th 24 Hours of Le Mans win in 14 runnings in stride. Perhaps what had been most coveted is an adversary to the great name. From 2007 to 2011, Peugeot gave Audi a reason to fear losing to the 908 HDi FAP race car. Losing the 2009 endurance classic to the Peugeot 908, The Audi Sport effort in the prototype category was never as determined as it was in the following year’s event when the R15 plus recaptured begging rights of Le Mans.
As Peugeot withdrew from the prototype category, the top class in sports car racing once again needed a formidable challenger to give the Audi R18 e-tron quattro a run for its money. Fortunate to say, the 2013 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans did provide a reason for the TDI diesel/electric hybrid race car to push hard. Last year, a new effort from Japanese auto giant Toyota appeared to have the scope to topple the Audi Sport dominance of sports car racing. Toyota Motorsports entered the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans race with lots of potential but was ill prepared to compete with their brand-new TS030 Hybrid car. However, as Toyota and Audi met in subsequent WEC sports car races, TS030 Hybrid became a threat to R18 e-tron quattro.
In the 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans, spectators were treated to one of the more contentious prototype battles. Though the lead Audi R18 e-tron quattro finished a lap in front of the Toyota, the fact the Japanese car was able to spoil a podium sweep was stark contrast to a year earlier. Fending off a challenge from a stout Toyota effort, the Audi R18 e-tron quattros were split by the rival race machines that collected second and fourth place overall.
Drivers of the #2 Winning his ninth Le Mans 24-Hour race overall, co-driver of the #2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro Tom Kristensen explained the feat personally. “For me, Le Mans was filled with very personal emotions this time. I’m proud to drive for the world’s best team. This applies to all teammates, all employees in Ingolstadt and Neckarsulm and for Audi Sport Team Joest. They make it possible for us to realize a dream. Now this dream has come true again – winning the fastest and toughest race under the direction of Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich.” said Kristensen. For Kristensen and long-time teammate Allan McNish, the win for Audi Sport Team Joest duo was their first since 2008. In contrast, the winning car’s third driver 31-year old Frenchman Loïc Duval would toast his first overall victory at Le Mans.
The 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans victory was overshadowed by a tragic event occurring only minutes into the race. LMGTE-AM class driver Allan Simonsen crashed a wall hard in his Aston Martin. After the lap three crash, the Danish driver Simonsen was initially reported conscious when emergency crews recovered him from the car. However, a short time after the incident, it was announced that Allan Simonsen had died because of his injuries. A haunting reminder of the dangers of a sport propelling human beings at blazing, a death of race car driver is a time where victories less not important and mortality in taken into account. The Le Mans race continued realizing the loss of a speed-seeking comrade (the first death at the 24 Hours of Le Mans since 1997).
For Audi Sport Team Joest, some drivers and crewmembers may have recalled the death of Michelle Alboreto. In 2001, Alboreto was testing an Audi R8 prototype when a tire failed causing the car to veer into a wall. Michelle Alboreto has been the only driver who died in the Audi prototype effort since it was founded in the late 1990s. Similar to Audi, Aston Martin Racing continued to race after the news of Simonsen. Due to the fatal crash of Allan Simonsen and several other long safety car periods, the 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans overall distance completed was the shortest since 2001.
For the Audi Sport Team Joest organization, the 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans successfully fought to be recognized as the top of the sports car kingdom. However, at the top, it was evermore clear to the team this particular victory celebration would be somewhat muted. Head of Audi Motorsport Dr Wolfgang Ullrich stated, “That was the most difficult race I’ve experienced in my 15 Le Mans years. One reason, no doubt, was having to see a young race driver from Denmark lose his life this weekend. We’re feeling with his family.“ A fellow Danish driver, Tom Kristensen dedicated the win to recently departed Allan Simonsen.
Information and photo source: Audi AG, Automobile Club De l’Ouest