Audi has written an important chapter in the history of motor racing with its historic triumph in the 2006 24 Hours of Le Mans race. The new Audi R10 TDI was the first diesel car to win arguably the toughest car race in the world.
In front of a record crowd of 235,000 spectators, Frank Biela (Germany), Emanuele Pirro (Italy) and Marco Werner (Germany) clinched the sixth and most important Le Mans win for Audi so far. Dindo Capello (Italy), Tom Kristensen (Denmark) and Allan McNish (Scotland) also achieved a podium in finishing third overall.
The fans on the race track and a worldwide audience of millions of TV viewers saw an impressive demonstration of Audi TDI Power and the performance of modern diesel engines.
The brace of Audi R10 TDI cars, powered by a 650 hp V12 TDI engine, were by far the fastest and most economical cars. During the entire race, one of the new diesel sportscars from Ingolstadt was at the head of the field. Le Mans record winner Tom Kristensen drove the fastest lap of the race, setting a 3m 31.211s time, and he was the first driver at the wheel of an LM P1 sportscar to cover 16 laps with one fuel load. Completing 380 laps, Audi also set a new distance record.
In the race, the advantage in fuel consumption of the Audi TDI Power was visible for the spectators too: on average, the Audi drivers only pitted every 14 laps to refuel 90 litres of Shell V-Power Diesel.
The opposition, who relies on petrol engines, had to pit considerably more often. The fans were also impressed just how quiet an environmentally friendly 650-hp sportscar can be. Although the roll-out of the new Audi R10 TDI took place only 200 days before the race, the victorious Diesel sportscar ran as reliably for 24 hours as its predecessor, the R8 that scored five Le Mans victories.
The only unscheduled pit stop was carried out at 3:47 am when Audi Sport Team Joest decided to replace the gear cluster after trouble with fifth gear. In spite of the fact that the change of the entire rear end – as it had been done with the R8 – is no longer allowed by the rules, the team needed less than ten minutes war this exercise thanks to an innovative gearbox design. One more minute was lost for Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner on Sunday morning when one headlight of their R10 TDI was broken so the front bodywork had to be replaced. Apart from that, their Audi run like a clockwork.
Biela and Pirro celebrated their respective fourth Le Mans victory after 2000, 2001 and 2002. Thus, they rank in fourth position in the historic record charts behind Tom Kristensen, Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell. For Audi, it was the sixth Le Mans triumph and the third in succession. The success of the Bentley Speed 8 from 2003 included, a car that was powered by an FSI engine developed by Audi Sport, Audi technology is unbeaten at Le Mans in seven years.
Audi’s triumph was completed by Dindo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish who finished third. The #7 R10 TDI was in the lead in the early phase of the race when the injectors of the right-hand cylinder bank of the V12 TDI engine had to be replaced in the fourth hour. Having dropped back to 16th position, Capello, Kristensen and McNish fought back with the fastest lap times in the field to third place in spite of further setbacks at night and in the early morning hours.
Following a collision with a GT1 car, the undertray was loosened, and also the left-hand turbocharger had to be changed. Number 7 lost almost a full hour in the pits. Thanks to the mechanics who carried out all the repairs they still made it to the podium.
After its victories in the Sebring 12 Hour race and in the Le Mans 24 Hour race, the new Audi R10 TDI remains unbeaten. The next challenge is waiting for the revolutionary diesel sportscar already: from the 15th July onwards, Team Audi Sport North America will fight for the championship title in the American Le Mans Series with a pair of R10 TDI cars.