TopGear.com live from the 2012 Le Mans 24 Hours

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Matthew Jones
: Unless you’ve been stuck up a tree, you’ll probably know that it’s the 80th running of Le Mans this year. But what you don’t know is that we’re dispatching a team of operatives to bring Le Mans in all its red-eyed glory directly to your face.

But before we begin, let us remind you of this race’s sheer excellence. 56 cars are competing on an eight-and-a-half mile circuit from Saturday afternoon, through the night till Sunday afternoon. As well as the race, there’s the legendarily, erm, “sated” crowd.

And this year is particularly special – it’s the first year of L’Automobile Club de l’Ouest’s 56th entry category, which is reserved for one car that falls outside normal racing regs but gets a spot to showcase engineering concepts and innovation. And it’s occupied by the Nissan DeltaWing, which we’ve all got rather excited about. We even built our own version, which you’ll see more of soon…

While we’re here, we should probably give you a head start on the jargon, too. First up, classes. In 2012 there are four of ‘em:

- LMP1

- LMP2

- GTE Pro

- GTE Am

The “P” bit of LMP1 and LMP2 means the cars are two-seat prototypes, open or closed, with any chassis/engine layout.

LMP1 is the province of both manufacturer teams: Audi and Toyota. One of whom – probably Audi – will provide an outright winner and includes the R18 diesel racer and hybrid Toyota (which, incidentally, sounds utterly erotic).

The defining limits are minimum weight (900kg), maximum engine size (depending on fuel, and turbo or non-turbo), plus fuel capacity (significantly less for diesels, fractionally less again for either species of hybrid).

LMP2 is where you’ll find privately entered cars, all of which are, this year, petrol engined. It’s cost-capped (€355,000 for the chassis, €75,000 for the engine), shares P1’s 900kg limit, has its own turbo/non-turbo capacity and number-of-cylinder rules, and a 75-litre fuel limit. Each P2 also has to include a rookie driver in its three-driver line-up.

Down at GTE (E for Endurance) level, driver status dictates the classes. Pro and Am cars (from Corvette, Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin) are racing versions of GT cars, only their minimum weight is 1,245kg, capacity’s capped according to turbo or non-turbo, and they can only carry 90 litres of fuel.

Pro has no driver constraints, and like P1 is supported by the carmakers. Am allows only one “Platinum” driver, and Am cars have to have been available for at least a year in the same specification.

Confused? Head this way for our pick of the runners and riders to get a taste of just how excellent these cars really are…

We’ll be posting live here throughout, and we’ve got some very special things planned for you all, so stay with us throughout the weekend.

And so let us know if you’ve got anything you’d like us to video / photograph for you all. We are here to serve, TG.commers…

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Friday, 9.00 am

Matthew Jones: Well, if you’ve been following us on Twitter (@bbc_topgear) you’ll know that, apropos of nothing, half of our reporting team have been driving an old black London cab down to Le Mans. Unfortunately, they’re not any more – it buried itself in a cloud of white smoke a few miles before Rouen. Which was exfoliating.

Meanwhile, the rest of us have been slumming it in an old R34 Nissan Skyline (y’know, the best car on Gran Turismo) , and we’ve bumped into a few friends along the way. Namely, a garden variety GT-R and the rather rare two-seat GT-R Track Pack.

This sort of thing’s common on the way down to Le Mans. The motorway turns into a moving car circus – today we’ve spotted a 911 Turbo driven by an Elvis, a brace of Ferrari 458s, a Marcos Mantis, several Gallardos and an Aventador. And that was all before lunch.

Standby for more pre-race festivities. And there’s a chance we might see the public debut of our home-made DeltaWing later… Let us know if you spot it at editor@topgear.com…

More from us very soon, and please do tell us if there’s anything you’d like to see at Le Mans – we’d be more than happy to oblige. For now, though, here are a few pics as we got terribly lost in France.

—–

Friday, 5pm


MJ:
Don’t make a scene at Le Mans. That’s the only way to stay clear of the beer-filled fans with their water pistols and shouting and obsession with encouraging people to do burnouts when you show off your wheels.

But our home-madeDeltaWing is not a vehicle in which you can’t make a scene. It’s a fitting tribute to the rather special racer in every way. Not just its 1.6-litre engine size (our one nicked from a Westfield, rather than the engine from a Nissan Juke in the real racer), but it looks almost identical. There are wings slicing into the sky. It looks a bit like manparts. And there’s an exhaust that sounds like God’s own flatulence. It is the very definition of a scene.

And when we got it out to show the crowds, it resulted in my currently moist clothing, as well as, unfortunately, several disappointed fans, who were urging the car to do several burnouts. The latter aside, the people of Le Mans seem as much behind our rather insane and last minute DeltaWing tribute as they did the real-life racer.

Don’t take our word for it, take the words of a Frenchman. “I ‘av been following zi DeltaWing on zi TopGear.com. Very, very cool.” And this was our favourite, brought to you from an Australian, “Mad as a clown’s cock, mate. Love it.”

We’re very glad we got it built in time now. And if you took a snap, email editor@topgear.com or tweet @bbc_topgear with your pics and we’ll put the best ones up…

—-

Saturday, 11.00 am

MJ: Right – time to bring you lot up to speed with some racing business. Firstly, we should point out that it’s moist here. Very, very moist, which has meant havoc at this morning’s warm-up.

Tréluyer (No.1 Audi R18), Charouz (No.25 ADR-Delta Oreca) and Rostan (No.29 Gulf Racing Middle East Lola) all fell victim to the wet weather and ended up in gravel traps, raising the red flag until they were cleared.

When the race re-started, the No.16 Pescarolo caught on fire, forcing its driver, Collard, to stop between the two Hunaudières chicanes.

Time-wise, Loic Duval set the best time (4:03.933) in his No.3 Audi R18 ultra ahead of Dindo Capello and André Lotterer. The Audis, as expected, are looking unassailable… And it looks like it’ll be moist for the race, too, which starts at 2 o’clock( UK time) this afternoon. We can’t wait…

—-

Saturday, 12.30am 

Rowan Horncastle: Like every good festival, the headline act needs a good warm up band to get the crowd going. It’s no different at Le Mans. Well… it’s a bit different. Because instead of a four-piece indie band, the warm up act at Le Mans this year was a race between legendary Group C endurance cars.

Of the 31 lightweight and ridiculously powerful Group C beasts returning to their spiritual home, we had the awesome C9 and C11 Mercedes, Jaguar XJR 16, Lancia LC2 and a handful of Porsche 962s. One of those was piloted by Le Mans legend, Derek Bell (winner of Le Mans, no less, in 1975, 1981, 1982, 1986 and 1987. He kind of knows this place).

We caught up with Derek before the race and he wasn’t filled with confidence, “I’m dreading it. It’s pissing with rain and I’ve never driven this car in the wet.”  The Porsche 962 he was piloting was in ‘Long Tail’ form, so it didn’t have the downforce of other cars on the track. “This car is set up for the old circuit, before they put chicanes down the Mulsanne. I actually quite like the chicanes because I don’t really fancy doing 235mph.” Derek wasn’t the only person going in the car: he had a co-pilot in the shape of a teddy bear – in full race suit – set to be auctioned off for charity after the race.

Unfortunately when the lights went green, the clouds unleashed as much water as they could onto the 13.6km track. Racing potentially priceless machinery around a wet Le Mans track at more than 200mph takes some serious man-plums, but it doesn’t half get the crowd going. With rooster tails of spray being shot into the air, visibility wasn’t great – especially when some of the cars wipers stopped working – and there was a BIG shunt on the first lap. This put the pack behind the safety car for most of the 45-minute race. But when the cars were unleashed for the final 11-minutes the noise of the highly boosted, old-school machinery was well worth the wait.

As warm up acts go Group C is well up there. Bring on the main race…

—–

Saturday, 2pm 

MJ: Even though there were only a few minutes left before the 80th 24 Hours of Le Mans begins, we managed to prize a quick welcome from one of the drivers – Nissan GT Academy graduate, Lucas Ordonez.

He’s running in an LMP2 Greaves Motorsport car with Martin Brundle and his son, Alex. He’s in car number 42 if you fancy following him.

—-

Saturday, 2pm

RH: AND THEY’RE OFF! The 80th running of the 24 hours of Le Mans is underway. After the very wet Group C race the track’s dried out and the clouds have brightened up, so it looks less like the apocalypse in this part of France. How long can the pole-sitting number one R18 e-tron car stay in front? We’ll have to wait and see, so keep your fingers hovering over the refresh button – more updates very soon.

—–

Saturday, 4.30pm 

MJ: Well, it’s been an eventful couple of hours here at Le Mans. We have a bit of bad news for DeltaWing fans – it’s stuck in the pits with a gearbox issue. The Highcroft team says it’s perfectly fixable, but an exact diagnosis has been tricky, holding up proceedings.

There’s been problems further down the field, too. The GTE Pro-winning number 59 Ferrari 458 Italia lost time after running out of fuel. It’s currently stuck in last place in its class, but there’s still plenty of opportunities for it to crawl back up the field.

We’ve also seen a few buttock-clenching moments – Jorg Bergmeister span his number 80 Porsche into the gravel, Michel Frey put the number 40 Race Performance ORECA-Judd in the gravel and the number 29 Gulf Lola-Nissan drove into some wall..

We’re just about to go up in a helicopter to get you a view of Le Mans from the sky (tough gig this), so keep checking back for updates.

—–

Saturday, 6pm 

RH: Getting a sense of scale of this place is quite hard when you’re surrounded by nothing but chips, mayonnaise and discarded beer bottles skillfully shaped into mountains.

To really take the whole of Circuit de la Sarthe in, we had to take drastic action – we had to hit the skies. With the help of a type of rotorcraft in which lift and thrust are supplied by one or more engine-driven rotors (a helicopter), we could really see what a challenge this place is for the drivers.

Once we’d located the sick bags, we decided to take a look out the window – and trust us – this place is big. Starting at the start finish straight we could see some sunburnt heads as the grandstands are still chocka with fans all way up to the Dunlop Bridge. From there the legendary blue and yellow curbs of the Bugatti circuit seamlessly stitch into the public road of Tetre Rouge and the Mulsanne straight. No matter how many times you’ve gone flat out down the 3.7 mile straight on a computer game in the comfort of your pants, seeing cars fight a battle with air to max out at over 200mph is terrifying – even when you’re up in the air and they look like nothing more than noisy, scurrying rats.

Apart from seeing the track snake its way around these small villages of western France, it was also good to get a sense of scale of the support that Le Mans brings from all corners of the world. Tents are plonked on whatever patch the owners could find and are EVERYWHERE. We’ll be venturing into the campsites to see what really happens after hours. And don’t worry, we’ve packed some glowsticks and are ready to party.

But you don’t need a helicopter to get some perspective. A trip on the ferris wheel will elevate you just enough to see over the campsites. Or, if you’re near Tetre Rouge, go in the House of Horrors to see over the catch fencing as the cars bomb down the hill. At twilight is the best time as you can get great photos as the cars belch flames out of their poo-shoot and get their brakes nice and glowy. That’s a Top Gear Top Tip.

As for the race, we’re nearly four hours in and at the time of writing, it’s still the Audi e-tron riding up front followed by the number eight Toyota, then the non- hybrid Audi tailed by the other Toyota. It looks like we have quite an exciting race ahead of us. Check back soon for more updates and if you want us to cover anything, just give us a shout on Twitter @BBC_TopGear.

—–

Saturday 8:23pm

MJ & RH: Holy smokes. Anthony Davidson’s just had an enormous shunt in his Number 7 Toyota LMP1 car… And he’s trying to fix it! After a collision with number 81 AF Corse GT AM Ferrari 458 – where Davidson’s car hit the rear end of the Fez, TOOK OFF then span into a tyre wall – the British driver hopped out and tried to fix the car so he could drive it back to the pits.

This means Toyota’s only got one bullet left in the gun, but its other entry is currently leading the race ahead of the Audis.

Talking of Audi, he’s not the only driver partaking in a bit of DIY either. Minutes earlier Dumas in the number three Audi also took a trip into a tyre wall and decided to get out the car and rip the whole of the front end off his car… with his bare hands.

The safety car’s just passed us on the Dunlop curves, but the race will get underway again soon.

—–

Saturday 9.17pm

RH: Noooooo! The DeltaWing has crashed. It was tagged by the P3 Toyota and careered into a wall. We don’t know much at the moment apart from Satoshi Motoyama is still in the car. The crash wasn’t far from the pits, so hopefully he can bring it back. The incident is currently being investigated by race officials. We’ll bring you more information as soon as we get it.

Whether this means we get to take our one out of the car park to join the race is not yet clear…

—–

Saturday 10.40pm

RH: Day is rapidly turning into night here at Le Mans.  The night brings new challenges for the drivers, the main one being that they can’t see a bloody thing. We’re going to fill our body with sweets and caffeine to keep you up to date with what’s happening on and off track.

We’ve also heard from Toyota about Anthony Davidson’s condition, “Anthony was taken to the circuit medical centre following his accident during the Le Mans 24 Hours,” Toyota said. “Doctors at the circuit have confirmed that Anthony is suffering from shock and back pain, however there are no signs of any injuries and he is walking and talking with no problems.” This is a GOOD thing and once again proves the safety technology that is incorporated into the design of these prototype cars really does work.

Until the next update, check out some lovely warm shots of the cars as the sun was setting. If like PuSHiSLaND you want us to take pictures of certain cars, let us know in the comments below or Tweet us @BBC_TopGear and we’ll see what we can do.

—–

Saturday 10:55pm

MJ:Before number 07 Toyota spanged into the DeltaWing, ending its time at Le Mans, we managed to sneak ourselves into the pits for a look at the goings on behind the scenes.

The most remarkable thing about it? How unremarkable it was. Aside from the odd-looking bits of bodywork and pile of skinny front tyres, it’s really very normal. Which is kind of the point.

Its creator, Ben Bowlby, didn’t set out to build something that changes racing wholesale. He wanted to recalibrate our understanding of what’s possible by stretching the principles of racing efficiency as far as is possible – less mass and less drag means less fuel and less tyres. It’s alarmingly simple.

All the visual grammar of a racing pit is present and correct. There are men staring at screens full of baffling numbers, wives and girlfriends quietly tugging forelocks and lots of mechanics running around carrying unidentifiable pieces of metal. Because tyre warmth is so important, there’s a natty kebab shop-style rotisserie to keep the specially developed Michelins tacky (and keep Nissan’s armada of, umm, impractically dressed promo girls toasty).

We collared a mechanic, who told us: “It’s not that different to working anywhere else. Obviously, the car looks different, but all the basic principals are the same – our job hasn’t changed. We just lots of attention for doing it on this car.”

He’s not wrong. The public(ish) area outside the pit’s jam-packed with people straining for a view of the car and there’s cameramen triple-parked to interview Ben and the team. It’s an absolute circus, accentuated by random acts of shouting from passers by.

“You’ve saved Le Mans” shouts a bloke with a beguiling abundance of moustache. And we kind of agree. Since Peugeot announced its departure earlier this year, there weren’t any real challengers left for the Le Mans blitzkrieg that is Audi. OK, so Toyota’s been putting on a bloody good show considering they’re effectively last-minute stand-ins, but without the DeltaWing the 2012 race would have been a bit… predictable.

Which is why it’s such a shame that they’re out of the race. Even more so considering how hard its driver, Satoshi Motoyama, worked to try and get it back in the race (after the crash he jumped out of the car and tried to fix its broken suspension with basic tools with the engineers shouting instructions down the radio) Luckily, we left the pit long before the DeltaWing was dragged back for the last time, but we can’t imagine the disappointment hanging over the garage. Still, even its limited time on the track’s been a huge success, not just for the team but for the 2012 Le Mans.

Here’s a video of the crash. A minute’s silence if you please…

And in response to D‘s question, the DeltaWing’s fastest lap was 3:46.

—–

Sunday, 2:00am

MJ: Anthony Davidson broke his back during a massive crash on the Mulsanne straight earlier in the day (scroll up to see the video).

The Brit driver broke his T11 and T12 vertebrae after the number 81 AF Corse Ferrari 458 had a major altercation with his hybrid Toyota prototype, which launched it skyward before it smashed into the barriers.

For a few minutes it looked like Davidson had had a lucky escape, but the doctor’s prognosis followed a trip to the circuit’s medical centre.

Davidson tweeted: “Well that was a big one! Lying in a French hospital with a broken back wasn’t what I had in mind at this stage in the race…”

He’ll stay in hospital until Monday at the earliest.

Both Toyota TS030s have retired from the team’s Le Mans debut, the first being Davidson’s damaged car, and the second withdrew after engine trouble during hour 11.

So, unless something spectacular happens, it’ll be an Audi podium whiteout…

—–

Sunday 2:14am

MJ: Remember we told you that DeltaWing driver, Satoshi Motoyama, tried to fix the car next to the track after its collision with the hybrid Toyota? Well, Nissan’s released a video of his efforts, which sadly failed to get it back to Garage 56.

—–

Sunday, 04.50am

RH: Endurance racing is a monstrous test of mechanical and physical longevity. With parts and drivers being tested to the very limit, sometimes they pass that limit and break. This causes sad faces in the pit lane and sometimes retirements through either crashing or mechanical catastrophe.

Fire up the bugle because here are the current crop of cars that won’t be making it to the chequered flag at the 80th running of Le Mans.

#75 Prospeed Competition Porsche 911 RSR
#48 Murphy Prototypes Oreca 03-Nissan
#58 Luxury Racing Ferrari 458 Italia
#24 OAK Racing Morgan-Judd
#7 Toyota Racing Toyota TS030 HYBRID
#80 Flying Lizard Porsche 997 RSR
#29 Gulf Racing Middle East Lola-Nissan
#8 Toyota Racing Toyota TS030 HYBRID
#0 Highcroft Racing DeltaWing Nissan
#81 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia
#99 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage V8
#16 Pescarolo Team Pescarolo-Judd Power
#29 Gulf Racing Middle East Lola-Nissan

—–

Sunday, 05.25am

RH: The hours of darkness can be quite an intimidating period of endurance racing, and that’s not just for the drivers. After spending the last couple of hours strolling from Tetre Rouge back down to the Porsche curves, we can categorically say that there are some hardcore fans out here.

We’ve seen a Bishop put down his bible and have a go at one of those massively pointless punching machines, a couple of thousand of merry (read: drunk) enthusiasts dance their way into the sunrise and some people who’ve forced headphones as far into their cochlea as possible then crawled into their sleeping bag to have a sleep at the side of their racetrack while race commentary is subconsciously fed into their brain. It’s mental.

The nighttime can make drivers feel quite isolated as they drive into the opaqueness with their eyes on the look out for the next set of braking boards. It’s been dry with temperatures hovering around 11 degrees C, which allows the cars to breathe a lot easier and tyres to last a bit longer.

A lot of drivers try to get into a rhythm during the nightshift but accidents do have a tendency to happen when the man in the sky turns the lights off and fatigue is high but visibility low.

Tetre Rouge offers a fantastic visual and aural demonstration of the powers of downforce. The e-trons silently whistle their way up to corner and you can hear the car get squashed into the tarmac in search of grip as it is then fired out of the fast right hander on to the lonely Mulsanne straight. If you’re here, make sure you check it out as sometimes it can go wrong and you see some drivers try and catch a very high-speed slide.

As for the racing, it’s still an Audi 1-2-3 with the two e-trons in the top two spots. At the time of writing, McNish is in the lead after the number one Audi fancied cutting some grass in the Porsche Curves while Fassler was behind the wheel. He span the car and hit the rear against the tyre wall but didn’t do any long term damage to the car but it did lose him the lead.

LMP2 is being dominated by the No.44 Starworks HPD ARX 03B-Honda, which has been ahead for a long time in front of a snaking train of Orecas. And Darren Turner in the Aston Martin V8 Vantage in the LMGTE Pro category is in a battle with AF Corse 458. But more importantly he’s just tweeted that he had fried eggs on toast after his stint, which is nice. Could that be the new breakfast of champions?

With the sun about to rise we’re planning to speak to the DeltaWing drivers a little later about their unfortunate retirement. If there’s anything you want us to ask them, please write it in the handy comments box below.

—-

Sunday 9:09am

MJ: As you probably know, Audi’s only contenders – Toyota’s brace of TS030 hybrids – have both left the race (one crashed, the other suffered engine trouble), so the German manufacturer’s drivers have turned on each other…

The skirmish for pole position between the two hybrid diesel Audi e-trons has been rumbling through the night, and at the time of writing, it’s Tom Kristensen’s number two car that’s got the upper hand.

The number one car’s run into a fair whack of trouble, though. Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler are sharing driving duties for the final run as Benoit Treluyer’s called in sick. And this is after Fassler avoided the number 74 Corvette GT car that span at Mulsanne, damaging the car’s backside on the barriers.

Audi left Fassler’s car out until its next scheduled stop, when he was wheeled in so it could be repaired. Spannering took two minutes, allowing the number 2 e-tron to make up plenty of time.

Fassler then left braking too late on the vast Mulsanne straight, skittering over the gravel and opening the door for Kristensen to accelerate around him and into the lead.

Further down the field, Rebellion remains fifth and sixth ahead of JRM, and Starworks, AF Corse and Larbre have kept their class leads.

—-

Sunday, 9.25am

RH: After 1,005 kilometers, this year’s Garage 56 entry race was over. The response to the DeltaWing’s exit has been phenomenal as a huge number of fans and newly-founded converts have hit the interwebs to voice their sorrow.

We decided to go see the drivers to get the full story on their heartbreaking exit from the race.

“It would’ve made the 24 hours 100 per cent, I was convinced we could get it through” said DeltaWing driver Michael Krumm. That was before the 07 Toyota wanted to play an impromptu game of tag.

“Satoshi [Motoyama] is a hero. He worked for an hour and a half on the car to try and get it back to the pits. It was a super human effort that really showed his Japanese spirit not to give up. He’d probably still be working on it now if we hadn’t told him to step away from the car”

“I wanted to get the car back to Marino as soon as possible” Satoshi told us. With the help of basic mechanical training that all the drivers had received, Motoyama – with the help of a photographer who was showing engineers behind the fence the damage – tried to fix the car and get it back to the pits. “Everyone behind the fence was encouraging me so I was really motivated to get the car fixed”.

The crash was most gutting for DeltaWing development driver Marino Franchitti. “To not drive here hurt last night and hasn’t got any easier this morning,” Marino was only 20 minutes away from his first stint in the innovative race car before it ended up in the wall. “It’s devastating to have lived and breathed this project for four months and not get to get in the car in race conditions.”

To try and make Marino feel a bit better we let him have a quick seat in our homemade interpretation of the DeltaWing.

“The steering has a lot less play than the real car but our one is a lot more spacious. But this is absolutely mega!” He told us.

Ben Bowlby, the DeltaWing designer agrees, “I was a bit worried about the weight distribution at first but I’ve heard that it drives well. We should’ve put it on the race track – no one would know the difference.”

The similarity to the real thing even caught Michael Krumm out this morning: he actually thought that it was the real race car when he first saw it…

We reckon that’s mission accomplished for our last-minute SheDeltaWing project. What shall we do with it next? Anyone got any good ideas?

—-

Sunday, 10:30am

MJ: The 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans has just rumbled into its 20th hour, so we braved the daylight and had a brief foray into the campsite areas to see how everyone’s holding out. Generally, not well. But there are still a few pasty faces watching the closing hours of the race.

Don’t worry – we took our camera. Here’s what the morning after the night before looks like…


Aston’s stand-in GT car didn’t look like much cop.


John Deere’s 2014 Garage 56 entry still needs development work


“Where did we park the tent again?”


“How long was I asleep for? I don’t recognize ANY of these names”


This is what happens if you pass out on the night bus


Le Mansbillies


Not a bad place to wake up


Endurance racing – thirsty work


The Team Nissan Signatech Angry Birds tournament hits fever pitch


Fathers for Justice get everywhere

—-

Sunday, 10:54am

MJ: To answer AMdb5‘s question, a quick straw poll of team chiefs suggests that most of the bodywork gets collected, taken back to HQ where the techs decide what to do with it next.

If it’s repairable, it’ll get fixed and re-used on the car, otherwise it’s either scrapped or auctioned off. The bits of DeltaWing detritus, for example, will be sold to raise money for the SSAFA (Soldiers, Sailors, Airman and Families Association), Mission Motorsport and Afghan Trust.

Sunday, 11.30pm 

TG: It’s all going on in the Audi battle for LMP1 victory. First Gene, and now McNish have both piled their cars into the walls. Safety car is out and both have been repaired at lightning speed, but it just shows you can’t take anything for granted here…

(And apologies, but we’re having a few technical problems of our own after our feat of endurance blogging: we might be a bit light on pics for the rest of the race. We’ll see if we can get the Audi engineers to help, they seem to know what they’re doing…)

Sunday, 12.30 pm 

TG: Just one and a half hours to go now, and after enough coffee to float a small armada we’re looking forward to seeing – surely – an Audi win Le Mans after the early retirement of the Toyotas.

Benoit Treluyer in Audi number one is two laps ahead of Allan McNish, who is a further two ahead of Oliver Jarvis. Neel Jani in the Rebellion Lola is in fourth, praying for one of those relentless Audis to disappear and grab himself a podium finish.

It’s not as nail-biting as last year’s Peugeot / Audi showdown, but anything could still happen…

Meanwhile Tom Kimber-Smith in the acronym-tastic HPD ARX-03b is leading LMP2, Gianmaria Bruni’s Ferrari 458 GTC heads the GTE Pro and the Porsche 997 GT3 of Raymond Narac leads the GTE Am.

—-

Sunday, 1.00pm

TG: An hour to go, and we’re still on for a Audi podium clean sweep. Dr Ulrich is prowling the pit lane re-iterating his demands for clean track between the cars and no more mistakes…

It’s going to take a last-minute surprise for that #1 Audi R18 e-tron not to be the first ever diesel hybrid to win at Le Mans.

For traditionalists, the highest placed petrol car is now in fourth: the #12 Lola. Ahead of yet another Audi.

The closest race looks like being for GTE Am, with only 30 seconds separating the leading Imsa Porsche from the Labre Corvette…

—-

Sunday, 1.15pm

RH: The last campers are still slowly crawling out of their sticky tents to make their way to the catch fencing for the final hour.

Close up, you can really see that the racers aren’t cruising home though. Fastest laps are still happening at this stage of the race and people are still making mistakes.

But this is where the cars look their best, caked in a layer of grime and battle-scarred. Gaffer tape has been liberally applied to most cars to stitch up minor war wounds and they look better for it.

We’re cheering on our old BBC chum Martin Brundle to the chequered flag. He’s just handed over the Greaves Zytek-Nissan to his 21 year old son, Alex. It’s Father’s Day today in the UK, after all…

It still looks like it’ll be an Audi clean sweep, so if your planning on waving a Toyota flag, I’d head to the merchandise store now. But it’s racing, so anything can happen.

Stay tuned for the result when the champagne’s sprayed in less than an hour’s time…

Sunday, 2pm

AUDI WINS THE 2012 LE MANS 24 HOUR!

TG: Many congratulations to Andre Lotterer, who gets to see the chequered flag at Le Mans for the second year in a row as the Audis finished in a triumphant four car formation. A heroic effort from the team, who record the first ever Le Mans victory for a hybrid in its R18 e-tron, and also take all three spots on the LMP1 podium (as well as fifth).

Not the nail-biting finish of last year, but that’s mightily impressive stuff from Ingolstadt. And good to hear that Anthony Davidson is on the mend after Toyota’s LMP1 challenge fell apart so spectacularly yesterday.

In LMP2 Ryan Dalziel took the * deep breath* #44 Starworks Honda HPD ARX-03b home safe for the win, and Giancarlo Fisichella and the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 GTC took the GTE Pro class (an excellent effort from the ex-F1 man, considering he wrecked the car in practice).

The real final lap thrills came in GTE Am, with Pedro Lamy in the #50 Larbre Corvette hauling down rookie Anthony Pons’ #67 Imsa Porsche 997 GT3 with only 17 minutes left on the clock for the class win. Poor old Pons – having been overtaken – then had to limp into the pit lane on three wheels as a tyre blew with only minutes to go. Lots of happy Americans in the crowd enjoyed that battle…

Right. We’re off to trailer up our fake DeltaWing – the only working example left at the track, of course – and head back down the Autoroute des Anglais before the last Channel crossing departs. Look out for our extended highlights from the weekend next week on TG.com when we get back into range of a working internet connection. As requested we’ll be putting up some hi-res versions of our pictures.

And thanks for all your comments. It’s been emotional…

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