Webber shines as Audi wins Le Mans, again
THE potential of a fairytale Mark Webber and Porsche victory – or at least a podium – looked a distinct possibility with less than four hours remaining of an at times chaotic 82nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The Toyota onslaught had evaporated after a solid early flourish. The car that had controlled the race for so long dropped out with 10 hours remaining.
The Japanese giant is still to win the world’s greatest sports car classic.
Then the well-drilled Audi squad, so accustomed to scoring wins at Le Mans, got the staggers.
This brought into play the slower but steady Porsche 919 Hybrid of Webber and his team mates; Brendon Hartley, the Kiwi with the unfriendly barber, and Germany's Timo Bernhard.
With an hour and 40 minutes to the end, Webber, who was at the wheel and second overall, slowed down on the circuit but managed to get back to the pits. The Porsche was retired with terminal drivetrain problems.
It was a crushing disappointment after a gallant return to Le Mans for Webber, whose previous outing at the classic in 1999 ended before the race with bruises and an accumulation of Mercedes-Benz frequent flyer points.
“The last 22 hours or so have been incredible for the whole team,” the ex-Formula One star commented when he emerged from the stricken car.
“To get this car that far is a great achievement and we learnt a lot today. It was an honour to share the car with Timo and Brendon, who both did a phenomenal job.
“We got very close to getting a podium, but then had some noise in the engine. This wasn’t what we expected to fail as the engine has been going very well in testing. We had some issues with other parts, but they were running very well.
“There weren’t many safety cars today, which is tough on the engine, with a lot of full throttle. When you look at Audi and Toyota… no one had a smooth run. It is a really tough race to put together.
“I am a better driver here in Le Mans than I was 24 hours ago and it was a good experience.
“We will come back stronger next year – that’s, of course, the goal. But, as Toyota have shown, there are no guarantees at Le Mans; it’s a very tough race to win."
After being outrun on pace for more than half the race, and hampered by turbo problems affecting both its cars, Audi celebrated a stunning 13th Le Mans victory.
Audi’s #2 R18 e-tron quattro driven by Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler, which had earlier lost 23 minutes while a new turbocharger was fitted, found a measure of speed and reliability to see off surviving rivals.
All three factory prototype manufacturers had times of glory in the lead, but technical issues struck each of the front-running cars and kept the outcome in doubt in a race of madly fluctuating fortunes.
The #1 Audi of Tom Kristensen, Marc Gene and Lucas di Grassi scrambled back from setbacks to take second, with the #8 Toyota of Nicolas Lapierre, Sebastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson also rebounding from a very early crash on a rain-drenched track.
Perth businessman Stephen Wyatt, who shared an AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia with Michele Rugolo (Italy) and Sam Bird (Britain) had mixed fortunes, qualifying fastest in GT-E-Am but sidelined after just 22 laps of the race.
Aussies tackle Nurburgring 24 Hour
NEXT weekend marks another 24-hour Euro enduro, the annual grind around the 25km iconic Nurburgring course.
Among the nine Aussies entered is Mal Rose, back for his 11th consecutive crack, driving an Aston Martin N430 GT entered by the A-M Test Centre.
The vastly experienced Rose is sharing the #70 GT with Aston Martin CEO Ulrich Bez, test centre manager Wolfgang Schubauer and fellow Australian Peter Leemhuis.
Other prominent Australians entered include Ric Shaw and Paul Stubber in Porsches.
Last year’s race, won by Mercedes Benz for the first time, was red flagged for all of nine hours due to rain. That one should have been called the 15 Hours of Nurburging.
Ambrose eyes chance to shine in NASCAR
WHILE fascinating talk continues that Roger Penske is hunting him to return home to drive in a new team in the 2015 V8 Supercars Championship, Marcos Ambrose is enduring a NASCAR Sprint Cup season low on highlights in his Richard Petty Motorsports Ford.
His 15 starts this year have produced just two Top Five results and he sits 23rd in the standings.
At the weekend, the 37-year-old Tasmanian qualified 20th for the Quicken Loans 400 around the 2.0-mile Michigan International Speedway, finishing 25th.
Next weekend’s road course race at Sonoma, California, represents Ambrose’s best chance to notch a win and a prized ticket into the Chase for the championship.
However, his advantage in experience of road courses enjoyed when he first jumped into NASCAR has largely evaporated with so many of his rivals now well-versed in turning right as well as left.