Le Mans Halfway: Toyota, Audi, Porsche 1,2,3 as Attrition Begins

After 12 hours of racing at Le Mans, fate poked a finger at Audi—the defending Le Mans winner and World Champion #1 R18 e-tron quaatro driven by “Mr. Le Mans,” Tom Kristensen slowed on the track halfway through his stint. The Audi driver could be seen on the in-car camera fliiping switches frantically, trying to “Ctrl-Alt-Delete” to reset the onboard computer, hoping this would fix the problem.

It took Kristensen more than seven minutes to finish his lap and pull into the pits, where the car was taken straight to the garage. It turned out that one of the left-side direct injection units was malfunctioning; the Audi mechanics identified and repaired the problem in less than 15 minutes, and got the speedy Dane back onto track—but the Audi had lost third place.

This left the #7 Toyota TS040-Hybrid of Stéphane Sarrazin firmly in the lead, two minutes ahead of the #2 Audi R18 of André Lotterer and three laps ahead of Timo Bernhard in the #20 Porsche 919 Hybrid.

Tom Kristensen was at the wheel of the #1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro when a faulty fuel injector cost the car several laps. (audi-motorsport.info)

Kristensen’s problem doesn’t change Audi’s overall strategy—the team still needs to save seconds by multi-stinting tires while still turning quick laps, hoping that the Toyota will have its own issues. Audi does lose the insurance of having two cars immediately behind the leading Toyota, but it still has two cars running, the same as its opponents.

Audi’s strategy might not be enough—Toyota’s Alex Wurz responded to Audi’s quadruple stints with a quadruple stint of his own. if Audi cannot gain ground on pace or by making better use of its tires, then Audi might have to hope that fate strikes Toyota.

Porsche is the big winner—it now has a chance to finish on the podium, assuming it can survive the rest of the night, morning, and afternoon. Porsche could never have caught the Audi had the car stayed healthy; now Porsche can reasonably hope for a podium finish in its first le Mans 24 of the century.

Fate did strike further, but it didn’t hit Toyota. Halfway through the hour the second Porsche, the #14, in fifth place, slowed dramatically on the Mulsanne Straight—driver Marc Lieb radioed “No power.” Lieb had to try to get back to the pits purely on its batteries as its petrol engine had stopped working. 

Lieb was luckily able to limp back to the pits purely on hybrid power. Lieb stayed in the cockpit while engineers examined the engine compartment. Apparently the electric fuel pump had failed, and after a few minutes a crew of six mechanics began working in concert to replace it.

The #20 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley, and Mark Webber inherited third place after the #1 Audi had its mechanical issues. (Presse.Porsche.de)