Audi captures 9th win at 24 Hours of Le Mans

Audi won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the ninth time on Sunday

after all Peugeot cars retired, completing a record 397 laps.

German manufacturer Audi swept the top three spots at the

8.4-mile Circuit de la Sarthe on Sunday.

Audi tied Ferrari for second place in the list of the most

successful manufacturers at Le Mans. Porsche has the best record

with 16 wins.

Timo Bernhard, teaming up with fellow German driver Mike

Rockenfeller and Frenchman Romain Dumas, won ahead of the R15 TDI

driven by France’s Benoit Treluyer, which lagged one lap

behind.

Italy’s Dindo Capello – in the No. 7 Audi – was third, three

laps back.

Bernhard, Rockenfeller and Dumas won for the first time at the

track while Audi secured its fourth top-three finish after sweeping

the top three spots in 2000, 2002 and 2004.

“It’s unbelievable. I didn’t expect it,” Rockenfeller said.

“We did a good, clean job and we were lucky that our main

competitor had so many problems.”

Defending champion Peugeot was considered a huge favorite after

securing the four top spots on the starting grid. It clearly had

the fastest cars but ran into problems during the race, while Audi

took advantage of the better reliability of its cars.

“At the beginning it was a little unlucky for us, but at the

end it worked out fine,” said Audi boss Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich.

“It’s a great reward for all the work everyone has done. I think

this has to be the hardest Le Mans we’ve ever done.”

The remaining No. 1 Peugeot 908 HDI, driven by Alexander Wurz,

Marc Gene and Anthony Davidson, dropped out with engine failure

with just two hours remaining at the Circuit de la Sarthe. That

setback occurred four hours after the leading No. 2 of Stephane

Sarrazin, Franck Montagny and Nicolas Minassian retired with turbo

failure.

The Peugeot of Gene, Wurz and Davidson had previously started a

phenomenal comeback after being forced to pit for 12 minutes with

electric problems, dropping in the process from first to seventh

place.

The three drivers, however, had moved back to second, with Gene

and Davidson alternately improving the best time.

Peugeot’s problems started immediately this year. The car driven

by former Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais, which had started

from pole, retired because of suspension damage after less than

three hours Saturday.

The non-factory Oreca Peugeot of Olivier Panis, Nicolas Lapierre

and Loic Duval also retired with engine failure. Duval was

attempting to catch the No. 7 Audi and was within 10 seconds of

third place when his car’s engine blew up.

Peugeot ended Audi’s five-year domination at Le Mans last year

when it claimed its first win since 1993.

Audi’s hopes were dealt a serious setback during the fifth hour

when Tom Kristensen went off while trying to pass a BMW driven by

Andy Priaulx.

Kristensen, the most successful driver at Le Mans with eight

wins, slid off into the gravel and hit the barriers. He returned to

the pits and the car continued the race, but lost three laps to the

race leaders.

Former Formula One world champion Nigel Mansell also crashed as

his first attempt at the famous track lasted only 18 minutes.

Mansell spun in his Ginetta-Zytek and hit the security barrier

before the Indianapolis turn. He spent several minutes in his car

but was conscious when evacuated in an ambulance.

Mansell was taken to the circuit’s medical center and escaped

with “a bump on the head,” according to organizers.

The 56-year-old British driver was racing for the first time at

Le Mans, with his sons Greg and Leo. Mansell won the F1 title in

1992.