Johnny Herbert had to settle for second place as his Audi team-mates completed a historic treble in the 24-Hour Race here yesterday. After a series of punctures the former Formula 1 driver was always trying in vain to hunt down the car driven in turn by Frank Biela, Tom Kristensen and Emanuele Pirro.
The endurance classic had started well for the 37-year-old, who made the most of pole position to lead through the early stages. But the luck was with the victorious trio, who became the first full crew to win the marathon race in three successive years.
The key moment for the 1991 Le Mans winner came at around the three-and-a-half-hour mark when his co-driver Christian Pescatori sustained a flat tyre a long way from the pits. The process of returning to the garage and changing the wheel cost five minutes, and it was a blow from which Herbert and his two Italian colleagues – the other being Rinaldo Capello – could not recover.
When their fourth puncture occurred with seven hours remaining that was the end of their challenge and, with the Englishman a lap down on Pirro towards the end, he sensibly gave up the pursuit.
Herbert took up position behind Pirro and was joined by Austria's Philipp Peter in the third-placed Audi as the German manufacturer's trio took the chequered flag in formation, repeating their clean sweep of 2000.
"The time we lost due to the four punctures cost our car any chance we had of victory," Herbert said. "Its a crying shame – the car itself ran faultlessly, fast and reliable throughout the 24 hours.
"But nobody can be blamed for a tyre being punctured – you're in the lap of the Gods with something like that and we were the unlucky ones."