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Victory, Defeat – and Plenty of Surprises – at the Rolex 24 at Daytona

Another tequila sunrise to start the 2016 racing season.

by on Feb.01, 2016

Luis Filipe Derani celebrates after driving the last leg in the ESM team's Honda at the Rolex 24.

It wasn’t champagne flowing in Florida Sunday afternoon — nor milk, the beverage of choice for Indianapolis 500 winners. After 22-year-old Luis Filipe Derani shot across the finish line to wrap up the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the drink of choice was tequila.

No surprise, for Derani and his four co-drivers claimed an unprecedented victory behind the wheel of the Honda-powered Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsports prototype, a full 26 seconds ahead of their nearest competitors.

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It was the first time ever that a P2-class race car had claimed victory in what is generally seen as America’s most grueling endurance race – and a prelude to the summer’s main event, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“Words can’t describe it,” said ESM co-driver Scott Sharp, a previous Daytona winner. “It hasn’t sunk in yet, but it’s amazing.”

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Nissan Reveals Le Mans Racer

GT-R LM NISMO will mark return to LM P1 class.

by on Feb.12, 2015

Nissan plans to campaign the GT-R LM NISMO in the premier LM P1 endurance series.

Nissan gave everyone a real-world look at its GT-R LM NISMO racer it previewed during the Super Bowl and plans to race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race later this year.

“This is one of Nissan’s biggest motorsports projects in its 80-year history,” said Darren Cox, NISMO marketing manager.

Track Tested!

The racer officially shown to the public today for the first time “is basically Le Mans-spec.” But they will tweak the design before the big race at Le Mans, and it will undergo other aerodynamic revisions for each track during the endurance series.  (more…)

Germans Invade France: Victory at Le Mans

Disaster turns into victory.

by on Jun.15, 2011

Germany's secret weapon: the Audi R18.

It started back in 2000 when the first Audi prototype showed up at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.  At a race where sports car manufacturer Porsche has won 16 times and Ferrari nine times, the upstarts from Ingolstadt came with a serious race car, the turbocharged gasoline-engined R8, and took first, second and third the first time out.

In the years since, the Audi R8, R10, the R15 diesel and now the new R18 diesel have won the race nine more times.  They took a year off in 2003 when, at the suggestion of management, the Audi race car was reconfigured into a Bentley coupe, and the Bentley took first and second using Audi engines.

In 2004, the R8 returned and took first, second, third and fifth.  The following year, the updated and heavily restricted R8 won again, with Danish driver Tom Kristensen winning his seventh Le Mans in a row.

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The world of sports car racing changed forever in 2006 when Audi showed up with its new R10 race cars, powered by 5.5-liter turbocharged diesel engines.  Diesels?  At Le Mans?  Yes.  Using specially distilled diesel race fuel, the Audis qualified first and second and beat the closest gasoline-powered car by four LAPS, owing to the diesel’s reliability, huge torque off the corners, and far fewer stops for fuel.  The winning Audi diesel covered 3164 miles in 24 hours, at an average speed of 131 mph.

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Audi, Chevrolet, BMW and Even Ford Enhance Their Reputations at Le Mans

Despite two crashes, Audi overwhelms field with new R18 turbodiesel.

by on Jun.13, 2011

Though two of its three cars crashed, Audi's #2 R18 turbodiesel went on to win.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans, the greatest auto race on Earth, tests engineering skill, driving skill, mechanical skill and everyone’s patience.  This year’s race, the 79th running, showed once again what great racing companies like Audi, Chevrolet, Nissan, and BMW can do.

Audi brought three brand new, brutish-looking diesel-powered R18s to race in the top LMP1 class, with new V-6 turbodiesel engines replacing the older, heavier and less efficient V-10 turbodiesels.

Before 15 laps were done, their #3 car had crashed heavily, sending Scottish driver Allan McNish to the infield hospital.  Around 11:45 PM, the #1 car tangled with a Ferrari and lost, taking out a huge section of guardrail and sending German driver Mike Rockenfeller to the hospital, as well.

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It took more than two hours to fix the guardrail while the field of 56 cars idled around in the dark under a yellow flag.  But the remaining #2 car, with drivers Marcel Fassler, Benoit Treluyer, and Andre Lotterer, soldiered on and won the race, a close finish, with five diesel Peugeots trailing it home.  It was Audi’s tenth overall victory at Le Mans, now more than Ferrari.

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Milestones: First Porsche Overall Win at Le Mans

After 4,607.811 kilometers, Porsche took first 40 years ago.

by on Jun.11, 2010

The Zuffenhausen sports carmaker had been racing at the Sarthe circuit since 1951.

It was 40 years ago this weekend that Porsche claimed its first overall win at the world’s oldest endurance race, the 24 hours of Le Mans.

Hans Herrmann and Richard Atwood driving number 23 were first across the finish line in a 917 KH from Porsche Salzburg. Gerard Larrousse and Willy Kauhsen in the Martini Porsche 917 took second, trailed by Rudi Lins and Helmut Marko in a Porsche 908/02.

It was an impressive sweep for Porsche, which had been racing on the Sarthe street circuit since 1951, with numerous class wins because of Porsche’s lightweight and aerodynamic design, as well as reliability.

Porsche had come tantalizingly near to winning outright before. In 1969, in the closest Le Mans race ever, Herrmann and Larrousse in a Porsche 908 finished just 75 meters – about one second – behind the Ford GT 40 of Jacky Ickx.

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BMW “Art” Car Will be on the Le Mans Grid

Can BMW compete in the world’s oldest endurance race?

by on Jun.09, 2010

There's a tradition of decorated cars in Sarthe. Porsche at times takes a humorous approach.

This Saturday at 3 PM, the 24 Hours of Le Mans begins. It’s a grueling endurance race that has been dominated over the years by Porsche, which has more than 50 class wins and, arguably, Ferrari, a perennial crowd pleaser.

Well,yes, Ferrari, an enduring favorite except for some magic moments back in the 1960s when Ford “kicked Ferrari’s ass,” according to Carroll Shelby, a failed Texas chicken rancher but a winning racer, who was running the GT40 team when it happened.

After several years of Ford dominance – “we spent a ton of the Deuce’s [Henry Ford II] money,” said Shelby – the French changed the rules. Ah, the politics of racing, and the pragmatic – or is it cynical – French?

Once upon a time, Ford Motor dominated racing at Le Mans. Len Katz photograph.

On the grid this year will be two of Jeff Koons’ BMW Art Cars. Andy Priaulx (GB), Dirk Müller (DE) and Dirk Werner (DE) will race the BMW Art Car #79. Jörg Müller (DE), Augusto Farfus (BR), Uwe Alzen (DE) will drive the BMW Le Mans car #78.

There is a tradition of decorated cars at Le Mans. My personal favorite was – and still is – a pink Porsche (aka pink pig), which was diagrammed with dotted lines to reflect the cuts of pork a butcher would derive from the shape. Who says Germans don’t have a sense of humor?

What’s not funny is that BMW is in the hyper-competitive GT2 class, which sees eighteen cars piloted by the very best drivers backed by mega-buck teams.  Aston Martin, BMW, Corvette, Ferrari, Jaguar, Peugeot, Porsche and Spyker are expected to make the field. However, at Le Mans that’s the easy part – lasting through the night and well into the next day is the real challenge.

Here's my idea of an art car. Who says the Germans don't have a sense of humor?

The “Grand Touring” or the GT class has cars derived from models homologated from road use and can be purchased. A minimum of 100 road cars must be built by the major car manufacturers and a minimum of 25 for the smaller makes.

Since they have at least a passing relationship to real cars, I like the GT classes more than the one-off prototype classes, except for the Ford-Ferrari duel of yore. The two prototype classes will go away next year.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the world’s oldest endurance race in sports car racing, of course. It has been held annually since 1923 near the town of Le Mans, Sarthe, France. Known as the Grand Prix of Endurance, and organized by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), the race runs on a circuit containing closed public roads.

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