Audi’s three-car team of Allan McNish, Rinaldo Capello and Tom Kristensen was victorious in the Le Mans 24 Hours after a thrilling race-long duel with Peugeot.
For McNish it is his second victory in the classic French event . He first won it in 1998 but lost a second win cruelly in the late stages of last year’s race. Team mate Kristensen extended his record of Le Mans wins to eight.
Peugeot’s team of three 908s led convincingly in the opening stages, lapping several seconds quicker than the Audis. But the French cars hit overheating problems forcing a series of pit stops, and wet weather conditions played into Audi’s hands as their R10s thrived on the slippery track.
McNish was the first Audi driver to lead as he ran a long opening stint but Peugeot regained the initiative. Pole sitter Stephane Sarrazin set a scorching pace early on that the R10s simply couldn’t match but his 908 – number eight – was delayed for six laps by a gearbox failure.
The race was interrupted by the safety car when Marcel Fassler crashed his Courage Oreca in the Porsche Curves. As night closed in Franck Montangy impressed with a long and consistently quick stint. But Audi rapidly overhauled the Peugeot as rain fell overnight – the 908 drivers struggling for visibility in their closed-cockpit cars.
Further sporadic rainfall in the morning allowed Audi to maintain their advantage over Peugeot with McNish doing the running early in the morning.
The track remained greasy until the chequered flag fell and the No.2 McNish/Kristensen/Capello car won by a lap.
The Merksteijn/Verstappen/Bleekemolen Porsche RS Spyder won the LMP2 category and LMGT1 was won for the second year in a row by the Aston Martin DBR9 of Darren Turner, David Brabham and Antonio Garcia. Victory in LMGT2 went to the Ferrari F430 GT of Mika Salo, Jame Melo and Gianmari Bruni.
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