The 81st edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours this weekend is set to provide a fitting finale to week-long festivities at the fabled Circuit de la Sarthe, celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, with Toyota out to knock title-holders Audi off their perch. Audi’s dominance stretches back to their first title in 2000 with the German manufacturer victorious on 10 of 12 occasions since, including the last three races.
However, Toyota, who made their return to the event last year after a 13-year absence, will aim to build on a promising 2012 display that was ultimately curtailed by a series of accidents and mechanical failures.
Audi have again demonstrated their superiority by winning the first two events of this season’s World Endurance Championship (WEC) at Silverstone and Spa and on Thursday locked down the first three places on the grid ahead of Saturday’s renewal with the trio of Loic Duval, two-time winner Allan McNish and eight-time champion Tom Kristensen securing pole position in the No.2 R18 e-tron quattro.
Toyota though, whose two cars qualified fourth and fifth fastest, will take confidence from a trio of successes in Sao Paulo, Fuji and Shanghai that saw them finish the 2012 campaign strongly and will benefit from a rule change that will allow them to carry three extra litres of fuel, a move criticised by Audi with one of their drivers complaining: “You don’t change the rules during the game.”
Swiss team Rebellion, led by long-time Formula One veteran Nick Heidfeld, also harbour hopes of challenging for the podium after a fourth-place finish in last year’s race.
Also among the 168 drivers slated to take to the Le Mans track this weekend are a pair of ex-F1 drivers in Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi, who will compete for Ferrari in the GT Endurance Pro category, and Brazilian Bruno Senna, nephew of three-time F1 world champion Ayrton Senna, who will take to the wheel of an Aston Martin.
American Patrick Dempsey, best known for his role in the TV series Grey’s Anatomy, will make his second appearance, this time with Porsche in the GT Endurance AM class, after a ninth-place finish with Ferrari in the GT2 category in 2009.
However, nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb won’t take part after his team withdrew their entry, while Green GT also pulled out after announcing their hydrogen-powered car was not yet ready for the challenge of motor racing’s oldest active endurance race.
[Source: Sapa-AFP /jlb]