Audi reigns for fourth consecutive year at Le Mans

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Audi’s dominance continues at the biggest sports car race in the world.

For the fourth consecutive season, the German manufacturer is on the top step of the podium at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with now nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen of Denmark taking the checkered flag in the No. 2 Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro along with co-drivers Loic Duval and Allan McNish.

One of Audi’s sister teams, the No. 3 of Oliver Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi, and Marc Gene will join the podium as well, placing third behind the runner-up No. 8 Toyota Hybrid squad of Sebastien Buemi, Stephane Sarrazin and Anthony Davidson.

It was not an altogether perfect race for the Audi camp, with the seventh-hour problems of the No. 1 R18 (Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fassler and Andre Lotterer) eventually causing it to fall back to fifth place at the finish, 10 laps off the pace of the No. 2. But in a race that battled to achieve a steady rhythm through a staggering amount of safety car periods, the 4-Rings’ combo of Kristensen, McNish and Duval (who put the No. 2 on the pole for this 90th anniversary edition of Le Mans) turned in a tremendous performance.

“They’re all special but this one is amazing,” Audi Sport’s Brad Kettler told SPEED Channel. “The adversity we went through, having the guys work together – just incredible. The competition was amazing. I don’t know what to say, it’ll take me a while to figure it out.”

The subsequent podium celebration for the two Audi teams and the No. 8 Toyota group was a relatively subdued one following the death of Danish driver Allan Simonsen in the first hour of the race yesterday morning.

“They’re all emotional for different reasons – this one was obviously tender after everything that happened in the race, especially with the unfortunate accident at the beginning,” three-time Le Mans winner McNish told SPEED before going to the podium.

“That obviously played a little bit into Tom on the Danish side of things, but from my point of view and [the team’s] point of view, we had to work so hard and be so clean and tidy in difficult weather conditions. That was definitely the toughest, mentally difficult race that I’ve ever done here, without any question.”

For Duval, it is his first triumph at Le Mans in his fifth career start there.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.