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22 June 2013

Audi on pole at Le Mans

12th win in Audi's sights, but Toyota is close enough to spoil the party

Girish Karkera
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The 90th edition of the legendary endurance race - 24 Hours of Le Mans - gets underway at 6.30pm IST on Saturday. At the end of qualifying today, it was an Audi lock-up of the first three grid positions. The No.2 diesel-hybrid R18 e-tron Quattro, driven by Loic Duval, took pole position with a time of 3m22.349s. Duval later said that he was lucky to get two traffic-free laps of the 13.5km circuit, which helped him clock the fastest time. He is being partnered by two Le Mans veterans, many-times champion Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish. The e-tron made its debut last year, becoming the first hybrid to win the endurance race. The new car is an evolution which is faster, yet more fuel efficient, which can be the difference between winning and losing.

Last year's winners - Marcel Fässler (Switzerland), André Lotterer (Germany) and Benoît Tréluyer (France) - stood second. The entry of Toyota into endurance racing has made things a bit exciting, although it is not racing the entire championship. Its petrol hybrid featured at last year's Le Mans but has shown increased pace this year. Unlike the Audi, the Toyota's hybrid power goes to the rear wheels. It is said to be capable of running longer on a full tank than the R18. Audi motorsport boss Dr Wolfgang Ulrich said that means their cars will have to be atleast half a second quicker on every lap to make up for the time lost for fuel stops to stay ahead of the Toyota.

Even for Toyota it was their second TS030 car, No.8, driven by Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Stephane Sarrazin that got the better position. It is placed fourth on the starting grid with a time of 3m26.654s ahead of the No.7 Toyota. In other categories, Morgan took first place in the LMP2 class while Aston Martin topped the GTE class.

There is an Indian angle to this year's Le Mans too. Karun Chandhok is driving in the LMP2 class. He is driving with Team Murphy Prototypes and the car is placed seventh in its category. While pace and reliability are always the key ingredients for a win at Le Mans, strategy is going to play an important part too, now that both Audi and Toyota have reasonably different kind of machines fighting for the top spot. Rain has always played a part too and while Audi seems to have the upper hand with outright pace, Toyota has shown interesting pace in the wet. Whether the Jap team can play spoilsport in the German marque's quest for its 12th win at Le Mans, we will know in a little over 24 hours from now.

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