Bentley Dominate Le mans- Biela Disappointed
Date: Sunday, June 15, 2003 @ 11:27:27 BST
Author: audioc
Topic: Audi in Motorsport

Badge Engineering at it's worst? After all, the Bentley's are evolution Audi R8C's........

The #7 Bentley, driven by Tom Kristensen, Guy Smith and Rinaldo Capello has won a dominant victory in the 2003 Le Mans 24 Hours. As well as Bentley taking their first win here since 1930, Tom Kristensen also made history by taking his fourth win in 4 years.

Smith steadied the pace in the final hour of the race with a secure 3 lap cushion to the #8 car of David Brabham, Mark Blundell and Johnny Herbert.

The two Audi's were similarly relaxed in 3rd and 4th but the battle for fifth was anything but relaxing. Gunnar Jeannette's Panoz and Jean Marc Gounon's Courage-Judd fought hard in the closing laps, with action more like a sprint than the end of a gruelling endurance race, with the Panoz eventually emerging victorious.
The Bentleys completed more laps than the more powerful winning Audi in 2002.

Thanks to Owen for keeping regular visitors updated by the hour.......

Audi has chalked up its fifth consecutive rostrum finish in the Le Mans 24 Hours – the world’s toughest motor race.

The German prestige car manufacturer added to its impressive roll-of-honour when Emanuele Pirro, JJ Lehto and Stefan Johansson swept their “privateer” Audi R8 to a fine third place in France last weekend (14-15 June).

Having dominated saloon and touring car racing with its quattro four-wheel-drive models, Audi switched to endurance sportscar racing in 1999 finishing third on its Le Mans debut.

Victories in 2000, ’01 and ’02 were achieved and despite running a 2002-specification Audi R8 in this year’s race - featuring a twin-turbocharged V8 engine offering 60bhp less than at Le Mans last year due to an organiser imposed rule change - two R8s achieved creditable third and fourth place finishes.

For the past three years, the Audi R8 has featured FSI, petrol direct fuel saving economy now available to British motorists in the A2, A3 and A4 model range. With the average speed around the 8.48-mile track at over 130mph during the 24 hour duration, this has been of great significance.

Triple Le Mans 24 Hour race winner Frank Biela has held up his hand after making a rare, uncharacteristic mistake after finding himself in an unusual situation.

Biela, who has won over 50 races since joining the German manufacturer in 1991, found himself blocked in by a Panoz when attempting to line-up his silver and green Audi R8 for the pit-lane entrance approaching the two hour mark for his second, scheduled pit-stop in fourth place.

“I’m so upset for the team,” commented a crestfallen Biela - regarded as one of the best touring car and more recently sportscar drivers in the world. “The reserve light came on and the team told me to pit the next lap. But coming out of the Porsche Corners, a Panoz was in front of me and also through the fast Esses.

“I was trying to keep my momentum and attempted to pass him on the left side but I was surprised by his acceleration and found myself blocked as the Panoz was beside me. I couldn’t turn across to the pit-lane which meant I had to start another lap.

“I knew it would be almost impossible to get around and the car started ‘coughing’. I had to park the car but then I tried to get it back to the pits again by using the starter button but it was impossible. I’m devastated.”

The 38-year-old former British Touring Car Champion had started third on the grid - the best-placed of the three “customer” Audi R8s - and opted to start the race on a ‘hard’ compound race tyre. Biela would have caused an accident if he had not chosen to continue for another, fateful lap.

Team Director Mike Earle commented: “We’d definitely made the right tyre choice, Frank had already told us over the radio prior to his scheduled second stop that he would triple stint the tyres. So had he made it in to the pits, we would have resumed in a strong third place.

“We proved that we could do a 15-lap stint in between fuel stops and that strategy would have worked. I feel sorry for all of my team and of course Mika [Salo] and Perry [McCarthy] who never got to race. But more than anyone else, I feel desperately sorry for Frank. He’s a great guy, did a fantastic job for us in qualifying but the poor man is devastated.”

Mika Salo added: “I’m disappointed obviously, I was really looking forward to racing in the night here at Le Mans for the first time but I’ve enjoyed the sportscar experience with Audi. I’d love to come back.”

“We we’re looking good and it’s just a pity the race ended like this,” confirmed McCarthy. “Frank is a great, great driver but we were just plain unlucky with this incident. I’m convinced we would have been on the podium."

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