After several years of clear dominance, Peugeot finally broke Audi’s grip in the top LMP1 Class at the 24 Hours of LeMans last weekend. This is not terribly surprising given Audi openly admitting a year ago that their R10 racecar was aging fast and without several durability issues, including a faulty headlight by the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP, Audi would have not won last year either. However, Audi had hoped that the new R15 they had unleashed for this year would be sufficient to keep Peugeot at bay. They were wrong.
Three drivers; Marc Gene, Alexander Wurz and David Brabham were part of Peugeot’s winning team that completed 382 laps of the 8.5-mile circuit in the V-12 twin-turbo diesel vehicle, one lap ahead of a second Peugeot car driven by Stephane Sarrazin, Franck Montagny and Sebastien Bourdais. This victory put an end to Audi’s run of superiority at Le Mans, which the German manufacturer had won five times in a row and eight of the last nine years. Audi, led by driver Allan McNish, had to settle for third in their diesel-powered race car. In very un-Audi fashion, the top Audi team suffered a rash of mechanical problems including suspension and electronic malfunctions with three hours left in the race. The first three cars in the notoriously brutal race were diesel-powered, the Lola Aston Martin team being the first regular gas-powered car to finish in fourth place.
The success of diesel in this type of racing highlights its superior fuel economy and huge amount of available torque; over 800 lbs. Emphasizing the importance this type of endurance racing relates to the real world, the technologies that have been developed by both European automakers have also made their way into diesel passenger vehicles, which are far more popular in Europe than in America. Other forward-looking features that will make their way eventually into consumer cars include Audi’s use of lithium-ion batteries in the R15 and Peugeot’s commitment to launching a diesel-electric hybrid for 2011.