McNish fears hard day's night as Le Mans rivals close gap

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The Independent Online

Motor racing is in danger of getting a good name. Formula One has received rave reviews this season, Dan Wheldon gave Britain an Indianapolis 500 victory to celebrate and Le Mans promises a tantalisingly close contest this afternoon.

The 24-hour sports car classic has drivers and pundits guessing. Audi are narrow favourites, but weight and specification handicaps, as well as their rivals' progress, suggest a fifth win in six years for the R8 is far from assured.

"The competition is looking very strong," Allan McNish, the British Audi driver, said. "We have a proven car, and the team and the expertise to get the job done. The problem is that the regulations make it harder for us this year and some of the other cars have taken significant steps forward. It is a very difficult one to call, but then that should make it a terrific race for the fans."

Up to 70,000 spectators will be making the annual pilgrimage from this country and any driver or team with a British connection is guaranteed patriotic support. Creation and Zytek, two of the challenging cars, fall into that category, while Aston Martin, back at Le Mans for the first time since their outright triumph 46 years ago, will have fervent backing in their GT1 class race against the Corvettes.

There is, however, a serious threat to a "happy and glorious" weekend for the Brits, in the shape of the Pescarolo cars. This Gallic outfit, with six French drivers, including the world rally champion, Sébastien Loeb, could deliver a rare home win, but McNish's hope is that the reliable Audi will have the legs to come through the day-night ordeal ahead of the pack.

"Our overall race pace should still be good and if we can do an extra lap on the fuel then that will clearly be an advantage," he said. "The trouble is that there will be two other Audis out there and their drivers will be thinking the same."

One of those, Denmark's Tom Kristensen, is seeking a record seventh victory at Le Mans and no one would be surprised to see him at the top of the podium again come Sunday afternoon.

LE MANS 24 HOURS Grid positions: 1 E Collard, J-C Bouillon, E Comas (Pescarolo); 2 S Loeb, E Helary, S Ayari (Pescarolo); 3 E Pirro, F Biela, A McNish (Audi); 4 R Michigami, S Ara, K Kaneishi (Dome Mugen); 5 F Montagny, J-M Gounon, S Ortelli (Audi); 6 J Cochet, S Nakano, B Jouanny (Courage); 7 N Minassian, J Campbell-Water, A Wallace (DBA); 8 T Kristensen, JJ Lehto, M Werner (Ausi); 9 M Short, J Barbosa, V Ickx (Dallara); 10 S Hignett, J R Stack, H Kurosawa (Zytek).