Sparing you the suspense of reading the entire article to find out the outcome of the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans, the race was once more another highpoint to the legacy of Audi’s prototype sports car racing program. Taking first place as well as second place on the overall leaderboard after a day of racing, the Audi R18 e-tron Quattro LMP1 race cars retook the position of triumph. For 2014, the winning Audi Sport Team Joest line-up consisted of Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer. Unlike past years where near-perfect Audi Sport Team Joest form was on display at the 8.469-mile Circuit de la Sarthe, the 2014 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans was not a complete runaway for Audi. In fact, the 2014 version of the classic endurance affair contained the German team’s hardest-earned effort in memory.
For 2014, the feat is extra-memorable for Audi as the LMP1 class featured not one but two viable competitors against the R18 e-tron quattro. Winning the first two races in the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), Toyota was more energized than ever in the quest to capture a long sought-after overall victory at Le Mans. Claiming first and third in qualifying positioned the Japanese manufacturer in a favoured spot. The LMP1 category at the 24 Hours of Le Mans was also invigorated by the return of Porsche to high profile, premium class. Appearing in a top class at the French sports car race with a factory effort for the first time since 1998, the Porsche 919 Hybrid and its accomplished driver line-up may be rounding the learning curve quicker than their competitors would have expected. Audi itself was competing with its own new equipment. Combating the threat as well as conforming to new FIA WEC rules for the LMP1 category, the Audi R18 e-tron quattro shared mainly its name only with last year’s winning car at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Audi Sport Team Joest organization came to the race ready to defend with their customary three-car effort.
Adversity coming even before the green flag dropped on Saturday. The 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans preparations consisted of a scary crash in a Wednesday practice when Loic Duval crashed in the #1 R-18 e-tron quattro. Not seriously hurt but taken to hospital for overnight observation, Duval was scratched from the driver line-up was replaced with Mark Gene. Mechanics were able to rebuild the wrecked Audi R18 e-tron quattro race car but would face the fact they were outpaced by the Toyota Racing and Porsche Team during qualifying taking spots fifth through seventh. Potentially signifying that Audi’s dominance could be greatly at-risk, the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans would prove climatic.
Starting with three Audi R18 e-tron quattro LMP1 cars, the team’s efforts for winning were quickly devoted to just two vehicles. During a safety car period on a rainy Circuit de la Sarthe, the #3 Audi shared by drivers Filipe Albuquerque, Marco Bonanomi and Oliver Jarvis was hit by a GT category Ferrari. The crash damage to the rear rendered the #3 car unable to complete 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans and was retired after just 25 laps.
The early stage of the 2014 race featured the impressive pace of the Toyota TS040 Hybrids. The pole-sitting #7 Toyota, consisting of driving trio of Alexander Wurz, Stephane Sarrazin and Kazuki Nakajima, was the class of the field. However, the 24 Hours of Le Mans would soon remind teams of its endurance race nature. By the 15th hour, Toyota’s leading prototype runner suffered electrical problems that ultimately claimed their first 24 Hours of Le Mans victory with 219 laps completed. The Porsche 919 Hybrid was also strong on track but would be denied a top result after 24 hours of racing. Drivetrain and transmission problems hindered the Porsche return to the top class at Le Mans.
With the Audi R18 e-tron quattro race cars inheriting the lead on Sunday morning, the run to the checkered flag would not be without incident. Both cars required extended service for the replacement of their turbocharger units. On the 2014 R18 e-tron quattro, the turbocharger unit is a highly elaborate and experimental mechanism that operates on electrical power. While the service cost both cars several laps, Audi Sport Team Joest drivers have build up a sizable advantage on track preserving their top spots.
Prevailing with a three lap advantage, the #2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro claimed victory at the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans. The 13th time in 16 tries Audi has won the French endurance car racing treasure, the R18 e-tron quattro completed 379 laps totalling 5,165.39 kilometers or 3,209.62 miles. This win is also the third for Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer as a driving team at the circuit having also proven victorious in the 2011 and 2012 races.
After sitting as a mingled mess on the race track Wednesday, the #1 Audi Sport Team Joest entry took the runner-up spot. Three laps short of victory, former Formula 1 drivers Lucas di Grassi, Marc Gené and nine-time 24 Hours of Le Mans race winner Tom Kristensen shared second place car. By a two-lap advantage, the #1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro fended off the charged of the #8 Toyota TS040 Hybrid piloted by Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Nicolas LePierre.
Once again the champion of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich summarized the team’s success saying, “There were many incidents and none of the top cars made it across the distance without any problems. The decisive factors were that our Audi R18 e-tron quattro cars were able to drive consistently fast for 24 hours, our drivers made no mistakes and our squad responded properly and quickly to the issues that occurred. In Porsche and Toyota we had two really strong rivals who, as expected, did not make life easy for us. I always believed that, in spite of the particularly difficult prerequisites for us this year, we’d be able to succeed and that we’ve got the most efficient race car. That we succeeded again makes me feel proud
Information and photo source: Audi AG, Porsche Cars North America