Numerous incidents and red flags marked the start of the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans. The biggest was when Loïc Duval, an overall winner in last year’s race, lost control of the #1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro during practice yesterday and went airborne.
The French driver eventually hit a barrier at the Porsche Curves at more than 167 mph, but apart from a few abrasions he was uninjured. He remains in hospital, though.
“The accident looked horrible,” Audi Sport’s Chris Reinke said in a statement. “It speaks for the safety concept of the Audi R18 and the Le Mans prototypes that Loïc survived the enormous crash nearly uninjured.”
Audi raced overnight to prepare a new car in the team garage so it is ready for the second qualifying session today. Replacing Duval for now will be Marc Gené, who will join Tom Kristensen and Lucas Di Grassi in the #1 R18.
They still have to do their mandatory laps at night on Thursday in order to qualify for the race. The same is true for many other drivers, as the first qualifying session was stopped early after accidents and only 50 minutes of the originally planned two hours were available.
Duval's crash, in particular, brings back memories of last year’s death of Danish driver Allan Simonsen in the opening minutes of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. No doubt everyone will be on extra alert now.
Audi is gunning for its 13th overall victory at Le Mans since its debut in 1999, and fifth in a row. Standing in the way is fellow Volkswagen Group brand Porsche as well as Toyota. So far it’s been Porsche at the top of the timesheets with its two 919 Hybrids, followed by Toyota with its two TS040 Hybrids. Then it was the two remaining Audi R18 e-tron quattros (Audi will be fielding three of the cars in this weekend’s race).
The grid positions for the 82nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be decided on tonight. The race gets underway on Saturday. You can stay up to date by visiting our Le Mans dedicated hub.