Friday, March 7, 2014
The Associated Press
LE MANS, France — Audi won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the fourth straight year Sunday and dedicated its victory to Allan Simonsen of Denmark – the first driver to die in the showcase endurance race since 1997.
Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Loic Duval of Audi No. 2 finished one lap ahead of Toyota No. 8 driven by Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Stephane Sarrazin.
"This one is for Allan Simonsen," a tearful Kristensen said after taking the checkered flag. "A fantastic driver. This is for him."
The 34-year-old Simonsen was taken to the hospital after his Aston Martin spun out at high speed Saturday only 10 minutes into the race. He skidded into the barrier at the Tertre Rouge corner, where cars typically reach speeds of up to 105 mph. Simonsen died at the hospital soon after arrival, organizers said.
"Obviously, this horrible incident dampens the joy about another great Le Mans victory for Audi," Ullrich said on the team's website. "We were all completely shocked by the news of Allan Simonsen's death. This is the first fatal accident we've had to witness in 15 Le Mans years. I hope it'll remain the last."
After Simonsen's accident, Aston Martin Racing stayed in the race at the request of his family.
Sebastien Enjolras lost his life during pre-qualifying at Le Mans in 1997. The last driver fatality during the race itself was Jo Gartner in 1986. The worst crash in Le Mans history occurred when Pierre Levegh's Mercedes flew into the crowd in 1955, killing more than 80 spectators.
This was Duval's first victory at Le Mans but the third for McNish and the ninth for Kristensen, who extended his record for most titles by a driver.
Audi earned its 12th title at Le Mans, four shy of Porsche's record. The winning trio completed 348 laps in 24 hours on the 8.5-mile Circuit de la Sarthe.
"It was a complicated race," Duval said. "It's a reminder that it's a dangerous sport, even though we don't often think about it. It was very emotional. Tom lost his father in March and now he's losing a friend. That's rough."
Fifty-six cars started in the 81st edition of Le Mans, but 13 failed to finish and one car didn't complete a sufficient number of laps to be classified. In the 12th hour, Canadian driver Tony Burgess managed to walk away from a crash.
"The conditions were very tough," said Wolfgang Ullrich, head of Audi Motorsport. "We had to make the right decisions at the right time."
At the wheel of Audi No. 3, Oliver Jarvis, Marc Gene and Lucas Di Grassi took third place, one lap off the pace.
Although Audi was much quicker than its Japanese rival, Toyota hoped fuel consumption and tire management could be decisive. But the strategy was thwarted by the changing weather and numerous safety car periods. The safety car came out 11 times, holding up the race for more than five hours.
Toyota now has four runner-up finishes at Le Mans but has never won. The only Japanese manufacturer to win was Mazda in 1991. Audi had the top three spots on the grid while Toyota started from fourth and fifth.
Toyota briefly hit the front when the Audis pitted in the second hour. But the German manufacturer started dominating the race, regaining the top three spots in the third hour under pouring rain.
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