The 24 Hours of Le Mans 2011 was held 11-12 June at the 8.469 mile Circuit de la Sarthe in France. The Audi team defended their 2010 Le Mans 24 Hours win by beating the best Peugeot by a mere 13 seconds after 24 hours of intense racing. When the Rolex clock at the finish line showed 15:00 the expected battle between Audi and Peugeot came to an end with the remaining Audi barely staying ahead of no less than four Peugeots. The winning margin of just over 13 seconds was one of the closest in recent history. The British Zytek-Nissan won in the LMP2 class, while Corvette won its seventh Le Mans GT title in the Pro category. The American manufacturer was also successful in the Amateur GT category.
A crowd of close to 250,000 people watched this year’s running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans from the Circuit de La Sarthe. They were treated well by the competitors, as there was constant change for the lead and regular drama. With two Audi’s retired due to major accidents already on Saturday, it was up to the third car from Ingolstadt to defend the German manufacturer’s winning title from 2010. Benoit Treluyer (FRA), André Lotterer (DEU) and Marcel Fässler (CHE) were able to keep the lead by a small margin all Sunday.
An emotional Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Head of Audi Motorsport, said, “2011 was no doubt the most difficult Le Mans race we’ve ever contested – but in the end with the sweetest result we’ve ever had as well. From such a difficult situation we managed to recover again on our own power and in the end to defeat – albeit with a narrow margin – our really strong competitors from Peugeot. After eight hours we’d lost two of our three cars and knew that it would be extremely difficult with just one car. The entire squad gave everything to do the best for this car. Of course the drivers had to drive it. And they did a really fantastic job – although it was the squad with the least experience at Le Mans. Of course it’s extremely important that Allan (McNish) and Mike (Rockenfeller) came out of both accidents, which were really severe, without any injuries.”
“Last year the three of us finished second and we are proud we could now give Audi its tenth Le Mans victory,” said Swiss driver Marcel Fässler.
Not only was there a close battle in LMP1; the LMP2 class had eleven entrants and constant lead changes as well. In the end, it was the Nissan-powered Zytek that stayed ahead of its competitors. The Oreca-Nissan came second and the Lola-Honda finished third. In the GT classes the Corvettes were the strongest in both the professional as well as in the amateur category. Overcoming little problems during the night, the Corvette with Beretta (MCO), Garcia (ESP) and Milner (USA) cruised to a fine win. The second Corvette, which was in the lead for a long time, crashed on Sunday morning when Jan Magnussen (DK) ran into the Team Felbermayer Porsche. The AF Corsa Ferrari, with former Formula One driver Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) as one of its drivers, finished second and a BMW M3GT finished third. For Corvette it was their seventh class victory since they returned to racing ten years ago. “A great way to celebrate Chevrolet’s one hundredth birthday,” commented Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s Vice President of performance vehicles.
In the GTE Am class there was also success for the American manufacturer, as the French Labre Competition Corvette crossed the line first ahead of a Porsche and the strong American Ford GT. By finishing third, Andrea Robertson became the first woman since the thirties to be on the podium in Le Mans. “We were so proud to be invited to race here and getting a podium finish is unbelievable,” said an emotional Ms. Robertson.
Other than a light rain on Sunday afternoon, the weather was perfect, allowing the fans to make the most of the weekend’s fine events. The winning Audi team covered 355 laps over the 24 hours of the race, substantially less than last year’s record setting 397. Not only do the LMP1 cars have less power under the new rules this year, but the long periods behind the safety cars following accidents also lowered the covered distance.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans was the third race in this year’s Intercontinental Le Mans Cup. The next stop in this series will be the 1000 kilometers of Imola in Italy on July 3.
24 Hours of Le Mans 2011 – Photo Gallery (click image for larger picture)