Kristensen claims Le Mans record with seventh win

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Tom Kristensen made history here when he secured a record seventh victory in the 24-hour sports car classic in searing heat yesterday.

Tom Kristensen made history here when he secured a record seventh victory in the 24-hour sports car classic in searing heat yesterday.

The Dane, sharing with Marco Werner and J J Lehto in an Audi R8, beat the previous record of six wins set by the Belgian Jacky Ickx between 1969 and 1982.

In 1997 Kristensen drove a Porsche to victory, but shifted to BMW for the following two years. He won three straight titles with Audi after joining in 2000, helped Bentley triumph in 2003, before returning to win with Audi last year and this.

A Pescarolo driven by Eric Comas, Emmanuel Collard and Jean-Christophe Boullion finished second, two laps behind. Another Audi R8 with the Briton Allan McNish, Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro sharing the wheel came home third, six laps off the pace.

"Brilliant. It was a great race," Kristensen said. "I am so happy to be the record holder, to have been part of a fantastic victory."

Nearing the finish, Kristensen raised a single finger in the air to signify he is now the undisputed number one in the race's history.

Kristensen took the lead in the fourth hour of the race and Audi then held off a strong challenge from Boullion and his French team-mates Collard and Comas.

"They deserved to be near the front," Kristensen said. "But the toughest deserve to win at the end. I could not be more satisfied.

"The guys from Pescarolo gave me a hard time. They can be proud of their performance. The hardest time came in the morning when I had to jump in the car very early and I had hardly slept."

Heavier and less powerful than the Pescarolo prototypes, the Audis once again lived up to their reputation for being extremely reliable.

"We had a slow car," said Lehto. I thought we were not in the same league as the Pescarolos but we had to live with what we had."

Audi have now won at Le Mans five times in the last six years. The two Pescarolo cars set the early pace but both suffered from mechanical failure and one crashed out. Particularly tough on cars and drivers in any conditions, the race was made even more challenging this year by temperatures of up to 35C.

The hopes of the world rally champion, Sébastien Loeb', for Le Mans honours on his debut were dashed when his Pescarolo was damaged in an accident. Soheil Ayari, one of the car's three drivers, was at the wheel when he missed a curve and crashed into a tyre barrier after 288 laps.

The team manager, Henri Pescarolo, a four-times winner at Le Mans as a driver, said the car could not be repaired in time.

"It's a pity," said Loeb. "We have had a lot of problems since the start. We would have loved to make it to the end but that's motor racing."

There were reminders of less happy times with the organisers commemorating the 50th anniversary of the most serious accident in the race's history.

On 11 June 1955, Pierre Levegh's Mercedes hit Lance Macklin's Austin Healey before flying into the crowd. Seventy-nine people died. A commemorative plaque was unveiled a week before this year's race on the straight along by the pit lane.

Loeb's participation and the fine weather attracted 230,000 spectators, a figure that matches the 1974 attendance record.

LE MANS 24 HOUR RACE (Le Mans, France) Leading final positions: 1 JJ Lehto (Fin)/M Werner (Ger)/T Kristensen (Den) Audi R8 370 laps; 2 E Collard (Fr)/J C Boullion (Fr)/E Comas (Fr) Pescarolo Judd +2 laps; 3 F Biela (Ger)/E Pirro (It)/A McNish(GB) Audi R +6 laps; 4 F Montagny (Fr)/J Marc Gounon (Fr)/S Ortelli (Fr) Audi R8 +8 laps; 5 O Gavin (GB)/O Beretta (Fr)/J Magnussen (Den) Corvette C6-R +21 laps; 6 R Fellows (Can)/Johnny O'Connell (US)/M Papis (It) Corvette C6-R +23 laps; 7 J Lammers (Neth)/E Julian (US)/J Bosch (Neth) Dome Judd +24 laps; 8 D Schwager (Ger)/AlFrei (Ger)/C Vann (GB) Courage Judd +31 laps; 9 D Brabham (GB)/S Sarrazin (Fr)/D Turner (GB) Aston Martin +37 laps; 10 L Hindery (US)/M Rockenfeller (Ger)/M Lieb (Ger) Porsche 911 +38 laps.