Audi drivers preview Le Mans 2012

A racing driver’s glare is intense. Unsettlingly intense. Milliseconds feel like hours. You begin to question the very values your life is based on. TG can vouch for this because Allan McNish is glaring at us. Not because he’s angry, but because he’s serious.

“I live in the south of France, and as a company they were making French workers redundant and were in financial strife. The decision wasn’t a sporting decision. I don’t like it, but I can understand.

“It was like a bereavement in a way.”

He is of course, talking about the highly publicised and almost tragic exit of Peugeot from the 2012 Le Mans endurance race. The announcement was met with surprise from all quarters, especially Audi, who has now lost its key sparring partner for this year’s annual battle at La Sarthe.

“Without a doubt, the competition was fantastic and we had some great fights and great runs. They were fantastic competitors.” He is smiling now, which has alleviated TG’s need to go home and rethink its life.

His fellow works driver and office colleague, Tom Kristensen, agrees. The eight-time winner of Le Mans – that’s right, eight times – speaks with a sincerity that transcends the on-track rivalry. “There’s nobody who benefits from them leaving. Porsche and Toyota are coming so racing is always developing, but our good competitive fights with our friends from France will be missed.”

Ah yes, Toyota. Anybody familiar with’s corner of the Internet will no doubt be familiar with the sound of its TS030 prototype and hybrid drive. Part V8, part world’s biggest light sabre being switched on, the TS030 is a petrol hybrid that unfortunately met with a bit of an ‘incident’ just last month that has set back Toyota’s development.

Not that this will deter them, reckons Tom. “I think they will be very fast,” he says. “They have a lot of know-how within the team and group.” He takes on a serious tone, as he implicates the horrific and devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami that struck last year.

“I’ve been living in Japan for five years, and I can tell you their aim is to win Le Mans. Everyone knows the only Japanese manufacturer that has won Le Mans was Mazda in 1991, so they want to do something for the entire country.”

Allan agrees, and dismisses the assertion that Audi will be free from any real competition this year. “We’re taking them very seriously,” he says. “When it’s a trophy they haven’t got in their cabinet, you can bet they’ll be hungry for it. When I raced for them in Formula One, a lot of the talk in Japan was still about Le Mans and how they hadn’t won it. It’s one of their holy grails.”

Though not many people outside of Toyota actually know anything about the TS030. “They’ve got the capability, but we haven’t even seen the car yet, so we don’t know where it will be. All we’ve seen are some pictures and some YouTube clips. We’ve studied those greatly.”

So what do we know about the TS030? It runs a 3.4-litre petrol V8 connected to a hybrid system with a capacitor storage that recuperates energy under braking, which is then released to improve acceleration out of a corner.

“Toyota are going to have to be good to beat us,” Allan says with a wry smile, “but they’re very worthy competition.” Very worthy, in fact, because the TS030 is a hybrid – like the brand new Audi R18 e-tron quattro.

See pics of the Audi R18 e-tron quattro testing at Sebring

“I drove it for the first time in December,” Allan recalls. Audi’s crack team of engineers worked on the front suspension geometry and power steering system, and helped the rear by using a carbon gearbox that aids weight distribution.

“To be honest, I wasn’t sure what the e-tron system would feel like,” he says. “I braked going into the corner and you can feel the load as it regenerates. It’s nothing startling, just an extra friction in the braking phase. When you come out of the corner, it’s just like having extra horsepower. It just sort of pulls.”

Tom Kristensen (L) and Allan McNish (R)

Tom explains it somewhat more mechanically. “It’s a bit like a differential. On some corners, you can rotate the car a little bit better and use it almost as a balancing tool. When the boost stops though, it feels like you’re running into a little bit of headwind.”

Headwind, fine. But rain? Allan notes some concern. “I’m interested, personally, in what the R18 e-tron is like in the wet. I haven’t driven it in the wet yet.”

Not that either of them ever really feel fear. As Tom tells us. “I don’t get scared. You’re always alert. And you’re always having moments where its ‘oomph’ or ‘oomph’ [makes oversteery gestures]. Afterwards you can say ‘phew that was close’, but while you’re racing and you’re going around? It’s a fast place that takes all your energy and focus.”

Still, even if it does rain, he’ll take some comfort from the R18’s wide front track. And we only mention this because there is a car on the grid that has attracted many headlines – a few from TG – ahead of its Le Mans debut, that has a tiny front track. The Nissan DeltaWing.

Allan smiles broadly. “When I first heard about it, I thought ‘pah, a bit of PR’. Then Marino Franchitti signed up as one of the drivers, who is a very good friend of mine, and I sent him a note saying ‘seriously’?

“He replied back: ‘Seriously’.”

The DeltaWing is that Batmobile-esque racer that uses a 1.6-litre turbo engine like the one in the Juke. And though it only produces 300bhp, it weighs just 500kg and is expected to consume half as much fuel and half as many tyres of a full fat Le Mans Prototype. And those tyres? The fronts measure just 10cm wide each.

“I saw it run at Sebring,” says Allan, “and its lap times weren’t too bad. It didn’t understeer like we all expected, and it was a lot more alive and real than I thought it was.”

Tom chirrups with interest at the highly-anticipated concept. “I spoke to both the drivers who said it has a massive response turning in and it has less drag on the straights. I like the risk of going in with new technology – that’s the idea of Le Mans, isn’t it?”

Quite. Not that Allan wants it to be too good a technology. “I hope it has a good run, and I hope it finishes just behind the Audis so I can spray champagne on them” he notes with a smile.

And with that, the stage is set. is at the six hours of Spa this weekend, so we’ll report back on the race debut of the new R18 e-tron quattro, and any other surprises we might find…

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well the lmp cars looks amazing and the new specs sounds intresting… i defently gona watch and follow this

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good to see Le mon back, one of my favourite
races of the season.
alway look forward to this race, remember that
Ben Collins finshed in the top 10 last year race.

good to see an endurance race, this is motor racing
marthon, triathon and iron man rolled into one.
good fun for the viewer, horrible if you are
a poor commentator on this race.

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It would be interesting to see Porsche fight Audi. They’re like sister companies…
The companies I’d like to see in LeMans:
Ferrari too maybe.

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It will be pretty interesting to see how Toyota and Porsche come up with their projects, I think the Delta Wing might have a few problems on actually finishing the race, as it is the first time anyone’s going to race that sort of car in such a serious competition. Good luck to Audi, I’ll be rooting for them, since Peugeot’s out…

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Already waiting for this…
I’m going to sit front of TV for all of 24H

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@120Y: Your argument is STRONGLY invalid; the teams you “wish” were in Le Mans are actually there, save for Ford.

Honda – Currently campaigning in the ACO-run American Le Mans Series in the LMP2 category.
Ford – Not currently campaigning, but may join as an engine supplier.
Peugeot – Dropped out of LMP1, may return with a new car in the future.
BMW & Ferrari – Both currently running in the American Le Mans series under the GT category.

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Juslas, The American Le Mans is not Le Mans/ELMS. Whether he meant he wishes such teams/factories on the race itself or in the ELMS I’m not sure, though.
Well, Ford raced a GT last year, or at least somebody did, so Ford isn’t that absent from the whole thing. Pug won’t be there for the next 3 years and Beemer is said to be leaving the AC Schnitzer team to DTM duties.
With that said, I just want somebody to finally stop Audi’s annoying performance there. I wonder how well they’d do if Merc, Porsche, BMW or Toyota had all kept their prototype programs. Well, we’ll have a glimpse this year, I imagine, as Toyota is coming back to everything, and then, 2014 is the year to really, really look for.

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Merc, Porsche, BMW and Toyota*

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I meant in the LMP1 class, competing for the overall win.
The Acura in ALMS is really ugly :) but I greatly like the M3 and the 458.
I expect the R18 etron to be really something this year (if it finishes), since it is Diesel + Hybrid so it would probably need very few fuel stops. Toyota’s effort seems more of putting in a toe, though the car sounds incredible.

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IS LE MANS ON UK TV ????????????????????

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Please God, let the Delta Wing trounce the boring Audi company.

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Mingachimp it was on Eurosport (on cable) last year if you have that channel – Hopefully it is again will be watching in and out…

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Will it rain in Spain? The temperatures are rising in Catalonia and may well result in a downpour on Sunday during the GP. It could be a very wet race! Check the forecast for the Catalunya Circuit:

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Hi my friend! I wish to say that this article is amazing, great written and come with almost all significant infos. I’d like to look extra posts like this .

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What a material of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable experience on the topic of unpredicted feelings.

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