Le Mans 24 Hours: Porsche and Audi set for a great showdown

It is safe to say there will be a tough fight between Audi and Porsche

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The Independent Online

One marque has dominated Le Mans for the past 15 years; the other is the most successful manufacturer in the 24-hour race’s history, with former Formula One driver Mark Webber among those at the wheel. It is safe to say there will be a tough fight between Audi and Porsche this weekend.

Porsche, the most decorated maker, with 16 titles, will have their trio of 919 Hybrids on the top three positions of the grid today after Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb posted the fastest time in qualifying.

Audi, who have dominated the world’s most famous endurance race this century, sealed the next three spots.

“To be in pole position in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with a mythical brand such as Porsche, is exceptional,” Jani said.

With a fastest lap of 3min 16.887sec at the eight-and-a-half-mile circuit, Jani set a new record for an LM P1 car in qualifying and became the first Swiss driver since Jo Siffert in 1968 to secure pole position at the western France track. “Now we are aware that the hardest is yet to come,” Jani said.

When returning to Le Mans after a 16-year absence in the top category, Porsche missed out on victory last year after their leading car was stuck in the pits because of a mechanical problem as Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer drove Audi to its fifth straight title.

This year is different, with the three Porsches having improved their reliability and said to hold a speed advantage on the long straight lines of the circuit.

“People have great expectations of us; we have a sensational record here in the past,” said Webber, who will drive Porsche No 17 from the second spot with Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard. Behind them in third will be the No 19 Porsche driven by Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Nico Hülkenberg.

“Porsche is synonymous with success here. It’s a great burden for us to carry. We’re proud of that, but it’s not something that will guarantee us results on Sunday,” Webber said.

Behind the two German manufacturers, Toyota are betting on reliability rather than speed to defy the odds, with their  hybrid cars starting from seventh and eighth.

“If we really focused on qualifying we could have been quite a bit closer, but that wasn’t the target,” said Anthony Davidson, teaming up with world endurance co-champion Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima. “We have concentrated all through the week on getting a nice balance. From the team and drivers’ side, we have done everything we planned to do. I feel good going into the race.”

Ford will mark the 50th anniversary of their 1966 Le Mans 24 Hours victory by returning with a new GT car for next year’s event as well as entering the full world endurance championship, the manufacturer announced yesterday.