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KRISTENSEN: Le Mans Debrief

Audi Sport’s Tom Kristensen files his latest Sportscar365 column…

Photo: John Dagys

Photo: John Dagys

This year’s Le Mans was very special. First of all, you saw a lot of fans coming into the city really early. The ticket sales were mentioned up 30 percent. Definitely, you felt a special buzz about this year.

There were plenty of good competitors in all four classes and all showed fantastic fights. For sure with Porsche coming back, it also created more expectations in LMP1. Toyota were the favourites after the wins at Silverstone and Spa. The build-up throughout the week was very intense.

For car 1, our car, we had a good pre-test. We were very happy with the car at the pre-test and we were looking forward for a very strong week. Only minimal change done before FP1, just a little bit tuning on the front end.

Obviously that feeling changed dramatically on Wednesday with Loic’s accident. I was terrified and actually holding Lucas when we realized IT. The short time, although in reality it very long, until we knew that Loic was OK was very, very hard on everyone at the circuit.

People were already texting me, ‘IS HE OK?’ and later ‘Sorry you’re out of Le Mans.’ That’s where I really had to put a big hand up for Audi, Dr. Ullrich and the whole team. We made sure Loic was okay. The Audi Sport doctor had seen him while Allan was in the medical center too. He was treated the best he could be at the track before begin taken to a local hospital. He was recovering back at home with his wife and family before the race had finished.

The decision was taken straight away to rebuild the car and ask for permission, under these circumstances, to change the monocoque. The crew did, as alway, did an outstanding job. They created their own Le Mans miracle to rebuild a completely new car to go out for a roll out on Thursday evening.

They had worked flat out and had hardly any sleep during this time. We got Marc (Gené) on board as he was Audi Sport’s reserve driver. Thanks to JOTA Sport for letting him join us for Thursday. He had tested with me less than a month before the race, so he was the perfect fit in the situation we were in.

Lucas, Marc and I spent a lot of time together on Thursday morning going through everything, how we planned it originally with Loïc. Obviously the situation was now different and Marc got 20 laps in the evening and Lucas and I only a handful of laps in total. Of course these were very different circumstances compared to our normal preparation.

For sure we were on the back foot and that’s how we treated it going into the race. We had to pit 1 and 2 laps earlier than the other Audis because the team needed to separate our cars in the pit lane during the opening schedule stops.

To come in early actually became very tough and it penalized us. I had literally just gone through a train of GT cars before my stop and I was dead last again when I went back out. It was a big blow in that sense.

When the rain came, I already had made two stops for diesel. I pitted for wets, and as I re-started in the pit lane, the Safety Car came out and I was held at the red light at the end of the pit lane. Everything bad hit the No1 car at the time.

It was the right call to be on wets and when it went back to green, I was reeling in a lot of the time lost, but unfortunately the Safety Car came out again. On top of that, I was stuck behind two Porsche GT cars cruising on slicks and lost out to anyone who went into the pits during that Safety Car. I lost everything we had gained at that time and my opening stints lasted 3hr 15mins.

But I would say that from that point, we thought it would go forward. Our Audi was gelling with us. In the evening, Lucas and Marc did very, very well and we knew we had a car which could fight for us.

I was back in the car 30mins after midnight and was enjoying catching the leading Toyota and the No 2 car with Lotterer. I was on a mission to do five stints but that was cut short at 2:30am when I got a huge misfire which necessitated a fuel injector being replaced. We had to go in to the garage for 6 minutes but I also lost some time on track re-starting it to get it back to the pits.

On the stint after, Lucas had a puncture. At that point I thought, ‘OK, our luck will change.’ We were fast over the whole night and suddenly in the morning we were in the lead because of car No. 7, which I believe was the fastest car in the race, had retired and our sister car had changed its turbo.

At that point we had a two-lap lead on the Porsche and just had to cruise home. But unfortunately this year, there were technical problems for everyone and not necessarily due to the new regulations. We encountered a turbo issue on our car during the late morning requiring a long stop in the garage. The Porsche had engine issues I understand just after lunchtime and it gave the advantage of leading the race to the No. 2 Audi.

In the end, it was very satisfying for Audi to get a 1-2. Ben, André and Marcel are now members of the three time LM24 winners trio. But for our car, where we came from, completely out of the race, in a black hole, out of the race, and then to be leading, we have to say that we were a little disappointed initially but of course incredibly proud of the achievement and character shown by the crew and drivers.

I think it’s a race we can all be proud of. To see the Danish Aston Martin winning GTE-Am, it could not be any more deserving. Congrats to JOTA won LMP2, even though they had to let Marc go. The GTE-Pro Ferrari put in a strong race and it was particularly good to watch the fight with these professionals too.

Thanks to the Toyota and Porsche cars for giving us such a hard time and to make this race another classic. Now we look forward to COTA and for Loïc to re-join Lucas and I.

Tom Kristensen is a nine-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a former ALMS champion and the 2013 FIA WEC Champion, driving for Audi Sport Team Joest in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

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