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24 hours of Le Mans 2012

13-17 June 2012
24 ore di Le Mans 2012
20/06/2012 -

The 80th edition of the 24Hours of le Mans, which had to be marked by new motor race technologies, the hybrid ones to be clear, ended mainly with nothing done. The R-18 e-tron quattro, the hybrid weapon four-wheel drivetrain made by Audi, has conquered the first row in practice and the first two positions in race. Anyhow, as far as the result is concerning there are some kers working problems which happened on a number of occasions on the winning car. Besides, despite the good will of the rivals, the Audi could only win this Le Mans, due to the absence of its historic rival Peugeot, whose sports programme has been crashed by the economic crisis. The TS030 hybrid Toyota, turned out into a luxury rival, after that, at the beginning of the year, the company management had considered the 2012 season as an apprenticeship time. However, the car was protagonist of an incisive performance, proving how good was the system of the stored energy based on super condensers, but both cars were obliged to retire in the first third part of the race, due to accidents, and giving the rivals the go-ahead. The third novelty of this 24 Hours was the Delta Wing, a car with a particular streamline, at first created by the Indycar Series and then proposed again for endurances, whose construction derived from a compromise, by using the bodywork of the Aston Martin AMR-One, after that it was realised that the original design wouldn’t have passed crash-tests. The car turned out 89 cm shorter than the original version, with problems related to weight distribution which undermined its overall performance. Besides, it was not used the Reams on the Nissan black car: this material, whose design patent belonged to Panoz, proved to be stiffer and more economic than carbon.

Among the events organised beside the race, we can’t help pointing out the parade of four Matras Ms670, driven by Pescarolo, Larousse, Jabouille and Joshua Hill, the Graham’s nephew, after 40 years from the first success of the French brand on the Sarthe circuit.

As for the 2014 rules Pierre Fillon, the new President of ACO, has announced the return of a formula made by consumption. Differently from what happened at the time of Groups C, it will not concern the max limit of fuel needed to finish the race but the necessary one for one only lap. For safety’s sake the P1s must be coupes while the driving position of the driver, because of view problems complained by the Audi drivers, will be positioned forward and made it higher.

Free practice

In the morning, after the rain pouring down on the area of Le Mans, the session of the four-hour free practices took place on a dry circuit. First places have immediately been prerogative of four Audis and two Toyota cars, which since the two-day private practices have been able to show a frank unexpected potential. However, in the Japanese Company things didn’t take the right way, with Davidson engine which set fire after 5 laps at Mulsanne, ending their session before time. At the end of the four-hour test the best time was set by Fassler-Lotterer-Treluyer (3:25:163), two and a half second better than the one recorded last year, ahead of the other three Audis, while the first Toyota, driven by Wurz-Lapierre-Nakajima ended by little more than three seconds. Among private P1, it came to light the Acura of Strakka team, which stopped with an excellent time at 3:31:651, whilst all other prototypes paid heavy gaps. There was above all a big difficulty for the Pescarolo 03 with Boullion, certainly short of preparation and involved in a bad spun at the end of the session due to a wheel lock-up.

In the majority of class, in P2, the first place of the entry list of time was gained by the Acura of Starworks Motorsport, ahead of the Zytek with Jota and the Oreca of Murphy Prototype, while the Delta Wing, out of the category, managed to run ahead of the six prototypes of this group. The first spun of this 24 hours involved the Oreca of Signatech team driven by a young Lombard, who finished in the sand at Mulsanne corner after 1h and 38 seconds.

In GTPro the Aston Martin with Fernandez-Mucke-Turner took the lead of the group unexpectedly, while Porsche cars were clearly late, paying significant gaps. On the contrary, the Ferrari driven by Fisichella made a spun on the Porsche corners, where the GT of the Ferrari house came out badly.

1st Qualifying

The first qualifying session started on Wednesday evening at 22:00 with two luxurious absents: the Pescarolo 03, which suffered heavy damages in the accident of free practices, and the Ferrari with Fisichella-Bruni-Vilander, whose chassis was irreparably damaged after the crash in the afternoon. Technicians had been waiting for the new chassis which were sent from Piacenza factory.

Despite the clouds which peeped in on the circuit, the fearful rain was not seen which let the drivers run the whole first session on a dry track. Since the beginning the fight for pole was dominium of Audi e-tron quattro, with Kristensen and Lotterer hunting for the fastest lap, in spite of the track made slow by the night temperature. The Danish driver set a time of 1:26:536 which seemed unassailable but a surprising Lapierre who, set 1:27:191, finished second temporary, showing his Toyota fast speed quality. The row didn’t finish till the latest laps, with Duval setting the second time at one tenth off Pole and Lotterer who, when the time was expired, set an exceptional 3:25:453 by taking the Pole Position and gaining the best record time of the last edition. Among private P1 the Acura of Strakka team turned out to be ahead of all the rivals, even if the Rebellion Toyota cars did not accept to be put up with the opposing leaders.

In P2 we were surprised (not too much for those who have learnt to know him) by Beche, who set the best provisional time of the category with the Oreca of Thiriet team, ahead of the twin car of Murphy Prototype and before Kimber-Smith in the Acura Starworks. Excellent performance for the Delta-Wing, which held the position behind seven P2 with Krumn who set only three seconds off the best time of the category, while we have to point out a bad exit of the Ihara coming out of the Dunlop corner: the Lola of Golf Middle Est bumped against barriers, causing the qualifying interruption.

In GTPro problems went on for Porsches, while official Corvettes made a good impression by gaining first and third places, separated by the Ferrari of the Luxury Racing. Among GTAm the Porsche of Flying Lizard was still first thanks to Pilet while the Ferraris gained the last positions. We have to point out Ehret’s spun at the wheel of the Ferrari of Luxury Racing entered in the amateur category.

2nd Qualifying

The session that started on Thursday at 19.00, and which was entirely run on a dry track, saw five missing cars, including the Ferrari of the AF Corse with its technicians who had to go on assembling the new chassis, arrived in the morning. The conditions of the track allowed to the majority of the crews to improve, with an unexpected Audi Ultra driven by the usual fast Duval being ahead of all rivals with 3:24:078. The only one to be close to this time was Lotterer, besides the provisional pole man, to go down the wall of 3 minutes and 25 seconds. Toyotas didn’t go over the fourth and sixth places with gaps over 2 seconds, but above all the drivers looked at the most of their limits, given that both Lapierre and Davidson had been the authors of a harmless spun during their fast laps. Watts and Jani fought for the best time among private P1, with the English driver who was the first at 3:29:622, while Belicchi finished third even if with a certain gap.

In P2 Pla proved that his reputation of very fast driver was well deserved, improving his performance many times up to set a convincing 3:38:598: but not everything turns out as it should and, in fact, the French driver made a spun at Indianapolis. We need also to point out the problems met by the Lotus of Moro that was obliged to stop at Tertre Rouge in the launch round and the Ayari’s spun, at the wheel of the Oreca Pecom just close to the Ford chicane.

Among GTPro, Makowiecki in the Ferrari (3:55:393) and Turner at the wheel of Aston Martin improved Gavin’s best time, gaining first two positions of classification: On the contrary, the GTAm category was not very exciting, with only Jeannette who managed to bring a Ferrari among the first ones. We need to remark Pons’ spun on Tertre Rouge.

3rd Qualifying

The last qualifying season of the 80th 24 Hours of Le Mans was greatly exciting in the queen category, whilst for the other three categories the session was almost lacking of emotions. The fight for Pole Postion saw Lotterer taking the lead with 3:23:787, while in the last laps Davidson in Toyota gained an unexpected overall third place with 3:24:842. Kristensen finished fourth at 3:25:433 while Nakajima found himself fifth with 3:25:488: Among privates all was left unchanged but there was a bad crash by the Dome of Pescarolo team during the critical stages of the session at the Karting corners.

In P2 there was the Pole taken by Martin at the wheel of the Oreca ADR (3:38:181), while Deletraz qualified the Lola that was crashed by the Ihara, however, finding itself among the GTs. Among these ones no remarkable betterment but we can’t help talking of the eight laps run by Bruni at the wheel of a Ferrari whose repairing works were finished only 50 minutes before the end of the session. In all honesty nobody could believe any longer in it.

The race

Once finished the usual drivers’ parade in Le Mans centre, spoiled by a violent storm that hit the city late in the afternoon, the attention was called again on the Sarthe circuit, for the start of an eagerly awaited endurance of the year. The weather, which still in the morning warm-up had obliged the drivers to race on a wet circuit, found its balance, offering a start covered but with a dry track. Going back to the warm-up, the vehicles ran for a little time, with a long interruption made it necessary to free the track from the Lola Gulf Middle Est of Rostan: while Duval had set the overall best time, some unexpected troubles went on for Pescarolo make, with the 03 stopped at the Arrange for an engine failure.

Thus, when the start procedure began The Pescarolo 03 was still at the stand with technicians engaged in finishing the assembly of a new engine unit. It was even worse for the Strakka team, obliged to drive the Acura to the pit stop to solve problems related to the gearbox.

1st-4th hour

The start wasn’t so exciting with the first drivers holding their positions. McNish was the only one who gained the lead, and on the S corner of la Foret, just where last year he had a terrible accident after two hours of race, McNish passed Sarrazin, getting the third position; after two rounds he risked much by putting two wheels on the grass just on the same spot. At lap six the two Toyotas exchanged places theatrically while Dome Pescarolo went back to the pits because of the drivetrain failure, which caused suffering for all race long, preventing to finish the race. The Pescarolo 03 was also at the pits for problems due to the new mounted engine, which didn’t allow the car to reach the P2 speed on the straight.

On lap 9 the pit-stops started, with Toyota that, as foreseen, opened the dance, followed up by the Audi driven by Rockenfeller who was forced to stop after a few rounds for more than one lap because of his rear axle vibrations. The Audi wasn’t the only one to meet problems, given that after few laps Duval had to stop twice, forced to go back because of a tyre puncture.

When the first round of pit-stop was ended by all first drivers, classification saw Lotterer ahead of McNish by 17 seconds, while Wurz and Sarrazin were 33 and 37 seconds off respectively.

The race went on without any special event for over two hours, till when the Audi in the second position, given to Kristensen’s hand, was forced to stay at the pit stops four minute longer to remove a piece of rubber from one spring of the rear suspension. Toyotas found themselves second and third respectively, with a pace which let them to be close to the lead Audi, driven by Treluyer and all that despite Davidson’s car faced by a problem related to the stabilizer.

Among P2, after a close fight in the first laps among Martin, Pla and Berche, the French driver of the Oak Racing forced at the pit stop for a rather long time, managed to gain the first position with a good margin over his teammate Leiders. In this category we have to point out the first withdrawal from the race: it was Rostan at the wheel of a Lola Gulf Est.

As for the Delta Wing, continuous troubles to the drivetrain forced the car to go back for a long pit stop.

Among the GTPro, Turner took the lead for a long time at the wheel of his Aston Martin, but was obliged to yield to the Corvette driven by Milner and the Ferrari by Bruni after two hours of race. The latter was the author of a real good race start after the problems met by his car during practices. On the contrary, in GTAm we saw an excellent Pilet in the lead, finding himself in the fourth position among the GTs.

5th-8th hour

While Toyotas went on chasing the lead Audi, stealing precious time at each lap, Dumas finished against the tyres on the chicane of Forza Motorsport (former play station). The French driver restarted with a damaged rear axle, after a while forced to go back to the pits for long repairs causing the crew exclusion from the victory.

At the fifth hour the Toyota driven by Lapierre reached the Audi with Treluyer starting a wonderful fight for the first position: Nicolas passed the rival at Mulsanne corner, but thanks to some double lap pass, the Audi recovered inside the Arnage but yielded finally on the straight leading to the Porsche corners. The major acceleration of the Japan car brought to think of a problem related to the hybrid system of the R18. But just when the engineers were entertaining, the second Toyota had an awful accident: Davidson tried to double the Ferrari with Perazzini on the lap down on the fold before the Mulsanne corner but the Italian closed the door causing a contact which made the rival fly on the air. The dynamic was really fearful but luckily the English driver pulled himself out with only two broken vertebrae. Safety car remained about one hour on the track. The two cars in the lead took advantage of the accident to have a pit stop, with Fassler coming out just before Nakajma. When the race restarted the Japanese found the Audis driven by Capello and Jarvis between him and Fassler, and in the attempt of not losing close contact, increased the double laps down in the karting area, ending by hitting a no guilty Delta Wing which had tried to turn aside. Once forced to go back to the pit stop for the needed repairs, he returned in the third position but after few rounds he was forced to retire due to the engine failure. Thus the 24 Hours 2012 became an Audi’s matter, in fact, without any other rival and with Fassler who was always in the first position thanks to Capello’s spun. Behind them, the Toyota cars of Rebellion team were running well, fourth and fifth with Prost and Primat respectively.

Meanwhile, among P2 there was an open fight between the Morgan driven by Pla-Lahaye-Nicolet and the Oreca driven by Hartley, the author of a good recovery.

In GTPro the fight was also open with the Corvette driven by Gavin followed closely by the Ferrari with Vilander, after a good recovery made by Bruni and continued by Fisichella.

9th-12th hour

The hours in the night didn’t offer any special excitement, with the positions left unchanged among the first six drivers, but from the competition point of view Kristensen reduced his time from the leading car.

t was much more interesting the evolution of the situation in P2, with both withdrawal of Pla for a problem due to the oil pressure and the Oreca of Murphy Prototype finished at the wall. Ahead of all the other cars there was then the Acura of Starworks running ahead of the Oreca of Pecom team.

In GTPro the Ferrari driven by Bruni took the lead, but we have to point out that Fisichella risked of spoiling its performance for a spun. Behind them, the other Ferrari of Luxury team was also delayed by Farnbacher’s spun.

On the contrary, in GTAm Pilet was forced to retire which favoured the Corvette of Larbre team that was running ahead of the Porsche of IMSa Performance.

13th-16th hour

An unexpected event happened in a sleepy stage of the race: Fassler spun at the Porsche corners with the risk of bumping against barriers, he was forced to go back to the pits with flat tyres. However, technicians didn’t realise it reducing the stop to the change of drivers and refuelling, thus, when Lotterer went back to the track had to yield up with the first temporary position, to McNish, even if he had regained it very soon. Between the 15 -16th hour the German managed to improve his record time on lap, increasing his gap over Capello by almost 2 minutes.

Nothing new as regards the other categories but we need to point out that the AF Corse team managed to replace front disks of brakes on the lead car without losing the first position, even thanks to a puncture made by Makowiecki’s tyre.

17th-20th hour

A race that seemed without events in advance, at the eight a.m. became alive, when Fassler was obliged to go back to the pits after a damage to the rear wing occurred to prevent from a contact with a Corvette in a spun at the Mulsanne corner. The Swiss made his car repaired very soon at the pits, then finding himself in the second position. When Kristensen also ended his pit stop, Fassler forced his way to take the lead again, but made a mistake by lengthening on the chicane Forza Motorsport. On the following two hours Fassler regained the lead many times over Capello, but, as a matter of fact the latter ended by in the lead, given that he envisaged to have one pit stop less. When around the 20th hour Treluyer replaced Fassler, Capello took the lead with a good margin. Meanwhile, the Audi regained all the first four positions but Bononomi was faced by problems related to the electric system, which made him risk the follow up of the race.

All was left unchanged in P2 and GTPro, with the exception for the latter the spun of Mucke which almost caused Aston Martin to retire, while in GTAm the challenge went on between Corvette Larbre and Porsche IMSA.

21st-24th hour

When thanks to a spun by Treluyer, McNish’s dominium seemed to be no longer subject to attacks, the Scottish driver lost the control of his Audi during a double lap down at the Karting corners, causing a heavy damage to his prototype and yielding the first position to the twin car. Few instants before, Genè ended against barriers at Forza chicanes, with a damage of his Audi rear axle. The two crews managed to return to the track but they finished second and fifth respectively. The latest rounds for Lotterer, at the wheel of the Audi no 1, were like an unexpected parade while for Capello, at his last 24 Hours, was a painful experience. Notwithstanding some electric system problems Jarvis-Bononomi-Rockenfeller finished third and Jani-Prost-Heidfeld, worthy drivers of deserving, arrived fourth.

While Starworks team made the Acura win in P2 with the crew of Dalzien-Potolicchio-Kimber Smith and the AF Corse team with Bruni-Fisichella-Vilander ‘s triump in GTPro, the last actions arrived from the GTAm with the win of Lamy-Bornhausen-Canal at the wheel of a Corvette, with the Portuguese who made the decisive overtaking only twenty minutes before the end of the race.





article by Marco Zanello
Photo Giacomo Zanello

Vai Alla Gallery  Photogallery " Le Mans 24 hours 2012
Vai Alla Gallery  Photogallery " The Driver's Parade - 24h of Le Mans 2012

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