Hour 23: Are we nearly there yet…?

Battle for the lead

Hour 23: Are we nearly there yet…?

The penultimate hour of the 68th Le Mans 24 Hours had that end of term feel about it, with the three Audi R8s in the role of the clever kids that had walked their exams and were just waiting for the final bell. In a way, in the long hours since Allan McNish's long-range duel with race leader Frank Biela had petered out, the Audis had been going through the motions - they were going to win anyway, so roll on home time.
For the rest - maybe bar the child prodigy masquerading as the GT-shredding Dick Barbour Racing Porsche GT3R - the final two hours could still provide shocks and disappointments. The Courage Peugeot C52 looked like a lock-in for fourth, but with the Panoz fleets in a seemingly constant state of flux, the top 10 could still take on a different complexion.

Speaking of Panoz and disappointments, Mario Andretti's barrier scrape was fixable - a new nose and a check-up on the left front suspension being the main things - but it was decided to put Jan Magnussen in for the final hour or so. Nevertheless, the American veteran had conducted himself well - name a Panoz driver who hadn't(italic) got into some sort of scrape over the last 23 hours.

Back to the front of the class and what was the plan for the final few laps? Team orders? A formation finish? Let 'em race?

"There is still just over an hour to go," said Audi Sport boss Dr Wolfgang Ullrich. "Nothing is decided - everything can happen. But if you look at where the cars are relative to each other, it would seem correct if they kept to their own pace."

So, no team orders, but a certain implied etiquette nonetheless. And as the minutes ticked by, a time to start being rueful over what might have been, especially if you were in the second-placed car.

"We had problems during the night with the turbo and the gearbox," recounted Stephane Ortelli, 'and if we hadn't lost that time, you can draw your own conclusions."

And if my auntie had a pair of you-know-whats, she'd be my uncle. That's a 24-hour race for you.


They'd had their ups and downs, but with a single hour to go, it was looking like an ORECA Viper day in the GTS class. The Beretta/Wendlinger/Dupuy machine had finally broken clear of the pack and the expected Corvette/Viper scrap hadn't really materialised for the lead, but it had been an absorbing back-and-forth scrap. In the GT class, the Dick Barbour Racing effort had been a class apart, while in the LMP 675 category, the number 32 Multimatic Lola-Nissan had soaked up everything Le Mans had thrown at it and come back fighting.


Heat exhaustion raised its sweaty head in the final stages of a scorching Le Mans 24 Hours. Temperatures soared into the early '30s, with temperatures in the closed cockpit GT and GTS cars taking drivers to the edge of endurance. For Corvette star Justin Bell, it was a case of a stint too far, the Englishman collapsing in his garage and being whisked away by ambulance.


Pos No Drivers Car Class Laps/Time
8, F Biela, T Kristensen, E Pirro, Audi R8 (900), 354 laps
9, L Aiello, A McNish, S Ortelli, Audi R8 (900), +1 lap
7, M Alboreto, C Abt, R Capello, Audi R8 (900), +3 laps
16, S Bourdais, O Grouillard, E Clerico, C Peugeot (900), +24 laps
12, H Katoh, J O'Connell, P H Raphanel, Panoz Spyder LMP (900), +26 laps
23, T Suzuki, M Kageyama, M Kageyama, Panoz Spyder LMP (900), +28 laps
51, O Beretta, K Wendlinger, D Dupuy, Oreca Viper (GTS), +33 laps
22, K Tsuchiya, M Kondo, A Iida, Panoz Spyder LMP (900), +38 laps
53, D Donohue, N Amorim, A Beltoise, Dodge Viper (GTS), +39 laps
, 64, A Pilgrim, K Collins, F Freon, Corvette (GTS), +41 laps


Class No Driver Car Time
900 9, A McNish Audi R8 3:37.359


Class No Drivers Car Class Time
32, S Maxwell, J Graham, G Wilkins, Lola Nissan 2K/40, +92 laps
51, O Beretta, K Wendlinger, D Dupuy, Oreca Viper, +33 laps
83, D Muller, L Luhr, B Wollek, Porsche GT3R, +48 laps


No Drivers Car Laps Reason
4, M Goossens, C Tinseau, K Kolby, DAM'S Cadillac LMP (900), fire - 5 laps
5, Y Dalmas, N Minassian, J P Belloc, ORECA Reynard-Mopar 2KQ (900), oil pressure - 1 lap
20, J Lammers, P Kox, T Coronel, Konrad Lola B2K/10 (900), retired, 38 laps
33, J D Deletraz, R Kelleners, D Terrien, ROC VW (675), engine, 44 laps
77, C Bouchut, J Chereau, P Gouselard, Porsche GT3-R, accident, 34 laps
34, J-C Boullion, J Gene, G Policand, Reynard Volkswagen (675), engine, 72 laps
24, S Johansson, J Matthews, G Smith, Reynard Judd 2KQ, engine, 126 laps
21, M Schiattarella, D de Radigues, E Naspetti, Lola Judd B2K/10, stopped, 154 laps
54, G Martinolle, J C Lagnez, B Derichebourg, Dodge Viper, engine, 180 laps
56, M Hezemans, D Hart, N Hugenholz, Dodge Viper, accident, 210 laps
17, P Gache, G Formato, D Cottaz, Courage Peugeot, engine, 219 laps

For a full list of race positions at the 21-hour mark click here.


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