It was the 80th anniversary of the 24 hours of Le Mans – a race that tests the endurance not only of a range of machines, but also the drivers who pilot them. This was also the first year that the world’s most famous endurance race was featured as a round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. The race includes four categories – namely LMP1, LMP2, GTE Pro and GTE Amateur. And this brings together a wide variety of machines, ranging from extreme prototypes to more sedate GT cars – all fighting it out on one of the world’s most legendary racetracks for one day and one night.
This year, once again, belonged to Audi. They started at the front, and remained there till the very end. The Audi Team drivers, namely Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer, made their way to the top step of the podium as they were the first to cross the chequered flag on Sunday in their diesel-hybrid R18 E-Tron Quattro. With the R18, Audi proved that energy-harvesting technology and four-wheel drive is, in fact, the future. Let’s just say that no one can afford to scoff at hybrids for not being performance oriented anymore.
Though Peugeot was sorely missed this year, it was Toyota that re-entered the endurance race with their band new petrol-hybrid TS030, which truly took the fight to Audi. Toyota driver Nicolas Lappiere showed the pace of the Toyotas as he took the lead 5 hours into the race, but found himself in second position after a pit stop. The Toyota was then forced to return to pits once again for some repairs, and, ultimately, had to retire with an engine failure. The other Toyota, steered by Anthony Davidson, nearly kissed the sky, as it was launched into the air when a Ferrari turned into him – causing a (literally) back breaking impact with the tyre barrier.
But it was Audis day – and a historic one too. This was the first time that a vehicle with a hybrid drivetrain has been triumphant at Le Mans. With so many feathers in their cap, Audi moved the tally of title wins to 11, which is second only to Porsche. It was a hard fought battle at the Grand Prix of endurance and efficiency, and Audi deserves every bit of the praise.
But there was yet more history that was made at Le Mans this year, as Karun Chandhok became the first Indian to finish the Le Mans 24 hours race. With teammates, Le Mans veterans David Brabham and Peter Dumbreck, Karun delivered a faultless performance to steer his JRM team Honda LMP1 car to an extremely impressive 6th place overall at the end of the race. Karun drove for 9 hours in the Honda HPD car, including taking the wheel during the dreaded ‘Graveyard’ stint during the middle of the night – and, you have to say, it was a great effort by the young Indian driver. And while we would love to see Karun battle it out on the F1 circuit, we’re extremely proud to see an Indian finish so high up in one of the greatest races in history.