The night shift
The Audis approach corners at 120 mph in the pitch black looking for the apex. That's when 16 ultra-bright LED headlights are a godsend.
Once again in 2013, Audi conquered Le Mans for the 12th time.
Their success relied on meticulous preparation, superhuman stamina and impeccable decision-making.
Using insights from recent Le Mans races, we want to show you what it takes - hour by hour - to win the world's toughest race.
The Le Mans 24 Hours is a challenge that every driver wants to conquer, and an event that every manufacturer wants to win. Since 1923, the Le Mans 24 hours has firmly established itself alongside the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix as one of motorsport’s triple crown of blue-riband races. With a full day and night of racing through all weathers, a circuit that boasts average speeds of 245km/h and top speeds of 320km/h on the Mulsanne Straight, and the need for round-the-clock faultless reliability, it’s the ultimate test of man and machine.
The 13.6km Circuit de la Sarthe has hosted the Le Mans 24 hours since the event's inception in 1923. Its distinguishing feature is the 5km-long Mulsanne Straight, which is briefly interrupted by two chicanes. Even though the Mulsanne is public road for 364 days of the year, the fastest sports cars can reach 320km/h here. The fast Indianapolis kink and the sweeping Porsche Curves provide a very different challenge.
The fastest speed ever achieved on the 5km-long Mulsanne Straights was 405km/h in 1988, the year before chicanes were introduced to slow the cars and significantly improve safety.
The Audi R18 e-tron quattro is the first hybrid Audi Le Mans race car no longer powered exclusively by a combustion engine. With its partially electrified hybrid drive, the e-tron quattro is a four wheel drive car with hybrid (KERS type) technology driving the front wheels and a diesel engine driving the rear wheels.
The Audi R18 e-tron quattro with a hybrid engine and ultra lightweight construction.
Safer. Lighter. Stronger. Faster.
The rival cars are so closely matched technically,
the drivers must push as hard as possible from the start.
Around 75 percent of the Le Mans lap is spent at full load . That’s about 2m27s per lap, or 18 hours of the race – a real test of strength for Castrol EDGE Fluid Strength Technology™.
In the old days, clever Le Mans teams would use a 'rabbit and hare' approach. One car would go flat-out to try and 'break' its rivals; the other would play the long game and focus on reliability. Not any more. "There’s no room to nurse the car," says Audi Le Mans driver, Tom Kristensen. "You're pushing right from the start. There's a small window between the limit and making a mistake. And any mistake has a big impact."
Allan McNish, Audi Le Mans driver & two-time winner
Up to 200 people will have worked on Le Mans project for Audi. True teamwork "It's like in soccer," says 2011 winner Benoit Treluyer. "If just one person is missing, you can't win."
"There's a convention in the team that encourages inspiration to come from anyone," says driver Allan McNish. "All ideas build towards the bigger picture."
Audi driver, Tom Kristensen, "Le Mans is such a legendary race. You need so much energy, concentration and focus. It's a huge effort from everyone in the team. And, because it all takes place in one day, there's 364 days before you have a chance to win it again. The pressure to win Le Mans is huge."
Will Pickford, Motorsport Manager at Castrol says, "To finish an endurance race such as Le Mans 24hrs it's imperative to have an oil that enables exceptional engine durability performance. Nothing is left to chance as the oil must have successfully completed 48hrs of race simulation on the Audi R18 test stands to be approved for race use. Castrol Edge Technology provides the strength to perform on such a demanding race event as Le Mans 24hrs."
Castrol tasted class success at Le Mans in the 1950s with Aston Martin, but it was clearly hungry for more.
In 1988, the Castrol-lubricated Jaguar XJR-9LM became the first car to beat Porsche in nine years. Castrol tasted success again in 1989 with the Sauber-Mercedes C9, while the Jaguar XJR-12LM helped Castrol to secure a hat-trick of outright wins in 1991.
And that success has continued to the present day, Castrol winning the 1999 Le Mans 24 hours with the BMW V12 LMR, and scoring its first win as a partner of Audi – a team that has dominated Le Mans in recent years. Audi is now the second most successful marquee in Le Mans history, with 11 wins from 2000 to 2012. Audi driver Tom Kristensen has more wins than any other driver, with eight.
Castrol EDGE Fluid Strength Technology™ used in the Audi R18 engines has been tested under simulated race conditions for 48hrs. Double the distance of Le Mans.
Every aspect of a pit stop needs to be perfect. The driver needs to stop exactly in position every time, while the mechanics need to work fast and accurately, even when fatigued.
Race engineer Howden Haynes: "The key element to success is working out how to outperform the opposition, both on the track and in the garage."
Conserving tyres and fuel could mean saving two pit stops every three hours - the equivalent of half a lap over your rivals.
The Le Mans 24 hours settles into a rhythm after dusk. "Driving at night is a completely different discipline," says Allan McNish, "At 320km/h, you pass the apex of a corner before you see it. You’re driving on instinct."
Will Pickford, Castrol Motorsport Manager says, "Winning requires finishing ahead of the rest of the competitors and for that you need to be consistently posting fast laps. With the Audi R18 e-tron (or Audi cars) spending approximately 75% of the lap at full load then maximising engine power output is key. Formulating Motorsport oils for increased power is achieved through a combination of optimised base oils and advanced additive systems which act to reduce the engine internal frictional losses that are detrimental to mechanical efficiency"
The equivalent of a whole 20 race Formula 1 season in a day
Each driving stint can last up to three and half hours - the equivalent of three Formula 1 races in a row.
"Le Mans is exhausting," says Allan McNish. "You have to conserve energy. You have so much adrenaline running through your veins that it affects your ability to eat. You feel less hungry, so you can't digest." That means easily digestible foods, packed with slow-release nutrients - such as soups or porridge - are ideal.
At Le Mans, the passing spray from a rival car is like driving blind into a wall of water.
The Audi team can predict rain within a 45-minute time window, accurate to a minute, how heavy it will be, and even which parts of the eight-mile circuit it will hit. In 2008, a call to pre-emptively put Tom Kristensen onto intermediate tyres ahead of a shower meant he stayed on the road, while Audi's rivals spun off. "Those are the kind of calls that can win or lose a race," says Howden Haynes. "They're the most stressful to make, but have the biggest rewards if you get them right."
After almost 24 hours and 3,200 miles of racing, the Le Mans race is often decided by a margin of mere seconds. The battle goes on until the very end...
Allan McNish: "The day you think you're perfect is the day you stop looking for the next advantage. It's the day someone else finds it and moves in front of you. You've got to look at all the tiny details to minimise losses and maximise gains. You've either got it, or you haven't. And if you think you're perfect, you haven't got it."
"2011 was, no doubt, the most difficult Le Mans race we've ever contested. But in the end it was the sweetest result we've ever had as well," Audi Sport boss Dr Wolfgang Ullrich. "After eight hours we had lost two of our three cars and know that it would be extremely difficult [to win] with just one car. But the entire squad gave everything to do the best for that car. From such a difficult situation, we managed to recover and in the end defeat, albeit by a small margin, some very strong competition."
"I had to ask our drivers to do something very hard - to go as fast as they could, but take no risks... we asked a lot of our car, and our drivers, but it was that strategy that enabled us to succeed."
A testament to the incredible
strength of team, car and drivers.