Audi vs Porsche in LeMans showdown

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IOL mot jun12 LeMans a

World endurance racing heads to France this weekend for another running of the historic Le Mans 24 Hour race, which Audi will probably win. No, wait! That was last year’s headline. And probably a few before that.

It’s no secret that Audi has dominated this event in recent times with no less than 12 wins over the past 14 years, and with three of its cars lining up on the grid this Saturday (No1 is currently being rebuilt following a huge crash during practice), there’s a good chance this German juggernaut will spray the champagne again. But, it’ll by no means be a cakewalk for the four ringers this year. Why? Because of Porsche. That’s why.

BACK WITH A VENGEANCE

The most successful brand in Le Mans history (16 victories in top tier classes) may have last stood atop the podium in 1998, but the team from Stuttgart is back with a vengeance and is ready to challenge for overall, and premier LMP1 category honours. Porsche has entered two 919 Hybrid racers in this year’s championship, and with a podium at the season-opening six-hour round at Silverstone already under its belt, hopes to better that after a full day’s and night’s worth of racing this Sunday.

And then there’s Toyota. Since its return to World Endurance Championship in 2012 the Japanese team has proven competitive, but has until now been considered a dark horse against the force from Audi. Note the “until now” part. Toyota has taken wins at both this year’s six-hour races (Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps) leading up to Le Mans, and now leads the 2014 World Endurance Championship by a country mile.

A DIFFERENT APPROACH

Although similar in profile to sister brand Audi's R18 E-Tron Quattro entrant in this year's Le Mans 24 Hour race, the Porsche 919 takes a much different approach mechanically. All cars in the top LMP1-H class are required to run hybrid drivetrains, but where the Audi uses a 4-litre V6 turbodiesel as its primary power source, the Porsche has a much smaller 2-litre V4 turbopetrol.

Both create and store electric current, which is then used to fuel a secondary electric motor on the front axle, but the 919 uses an extremely complicated exhaust-driven device to do so, instead of a more conventional generator system like Audi. Another secret weapon in Porsche's arsenal is former Red Bull driver Mark Webber, who was scooped up fresh from his 13-year tenure in F1. The Australian last raced at Le Mans in 1999, where his unforgettable backflip in a Mercedes CLR has gone down in motorsport history. He repeated the aerial feat the very next day in a replacement car.

V8 TOYOTA

Like Porsche, Toyota is campaigning two cars this year, and with naturally aspirated 3.7-litre V8 petrol engines supplementing electric motors on both front and rear axles, Toyota's car is easily the most powerful on the grid this year. Toyota claims each of its TS040 Hybrids make just under 1000 horsepower, or roughly 730kW. Will brute force be the key to winning this weekend? If so, it will be the first time for Toyota in Le Mans' 82 year history.

A separate LMP1-L category will comprise two cars entered by Swiss-backed Rebellion racing, which run much simpler non-hybrid drivetrains. It's unlikely these cars will be competitive against the massive budgets of three factory-sponsored teams - but then again simpler can sometimes be better in races of attrition.

All nine LMP1 entries will be identifiable by white numbers on red backgrounds, but behind them will be another 46 teams in three lower divisions. A class for similar-looking but less powerful LMP2 cars, of which there are 17, features numbers on blue backgrounds; while 28 GTE Pro and GTE Am cars get green and orange number roundels respectively. The two GT classes for professional and amateur drivers, comprise road-based race cars from Porsche, Ferrari, Corvette and Aston Martin.

Nissan, which is expected to return to LMP1 next year, has again entered a peculiar-looking Deltawing-based racer called the Zeod-RC, which will compete as a technology demonstration. The Zeod plans to complete every 12th lap on battery power alone.

The race starts at 3pm on Saturday and will be televised in its entirety from 2.30pm on SuperSport 6 and SuperSport HD6.

Follow me on Twitter @PoorBoyLtd for live, trackside updates this weekend.

LMP1-H ENTRY LIST

#1 AUDI R18 E-TRON QUATTRO

Lucas DI GRASSI (BRA)

Marc GENE (ESP)

Tom KRISTENSEN (DNK)

#2 AUDI R18 E-TRON QUATTRO

Marcel FÄSSLER (CHE)

André LOTTERER (DEU)

Benoit TRELUYER (FRA)

#3 AUDI R18 E-TRON QUATTRO

Filipe ALBUQUERQUE (PRT)

Marco BONANOMI (ITA)

Oliver JARVIS (GBR)

#14 PORSCHE 919 HYBRID

Romain DUMAS (FRA)

Neel JANI (CHE)

Marc LIEB (DEU)

#20 PORSCHE 919 HYBRID

Timo BERNHARD (DEU)

Mark WEBBER (AUS)

Brendon HARTLEY (NZL)

#7 TOYOTA TS040 HYBRID

Alexander WURZ (AUT)

Stéphane SARRAZIN (FRA)

Kazuki NAKAJIMA (JPN)

#8 TOYOTA TS040 HYBRID

Anthony DAVIDSON (GBR)

Nicolas LAPIERRE (FRA)

Sébastien BUEMI (CHE)



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