HYBRID HUNTING LE MANS WIN: Formula 1 driver Nico Hulkenberg (inset) was leading the Le Mans 24-Hours on Sunday morning in a Porsche 919 Hybrid during a race peppered with pace-car breaks. Image: AFP / Jean Francois Monier
LE MANS, France - Nico Hulkenberg
strengthened Porsche's lead in his first Le Mans 24 Hours race on Sunday morning
while champion team Audi ran into trouble when its quickest car shed bodywork
with seven hours remaining.
The Force India Formula 1 driver in
the No.19 Porsche, led the No.9 Audi by just over two minutes at the 17-hour
mark with the pace cars deployed for a fourth time.
Hulkenberg, sharing the car with Briton
Nick Tandy and New Zealand's Earl Bamber, had arrived in Le Mans straight from
the 2015 Canadian F1 GP and will be heading to Austria for its GP after the
There had been little to separate
the two German manufacturers, each a member of the VW stable, as dawn rose over
the Sarthe circuit this morning (June 14 2015).
However Marcel Fassler had to pit
the No.7 Audi just before 7am (French time) after a large part of bodywork flew
off the car without warning.
That cost seven minutes for repairs
and pushed the Swiss, who is chasing a fourth win with team mates Benoit
Treluyer and Andre Lotterer, down to fifth.
Australian Mark Webber, a former Red
Bull F driver, was third in the No.17 Porsche shared with New Zealander Brendon
Hartley and Germany’s Timo Bernhard after leading at the quarter-distance.
Webber was handed a one-minute
'stop/go' penalty after the eight-hour mark for overtaking under yellow flags
through a slow zone imposed around the Mulsanne corner after the third pace car
LIGHTNING ONE-LAP PACE
The pace cars came out for a fourth
time around the 17-hour mark when Roald Goethe's Aston Martin crashed and
spread debris across the track.
Porsche had qualified 1-2-3 thanks
to their lightning one-lap pace but Audi looked just as quick in race trim.
The pace cars, three of them to cope
with the 13.6km Le Mans lap on which cars are at full power for about 85% of
the distance, made their first appearance after the first hour when a three-car
collision dumped oil in the first chicane.
There was a much longer interlude at
the end of the third hour when Frenchman Loic Duval spun and hit the barrier in
the No.8 Audi at the Indianapolis corner.
Duval nursed the car back to the
pits and it resumed the race only four minutes later but a pace car led for 45
AUDI AFTER 14th WIN
Denmark's retired nine-times winner
Tom Kristensen had waved the 83rd edition of the race away – the first was in
1923 – in bright sunshine on Saturday, watched by a crowd of around 250 000
spectators enjoying the festival atmosphere.
Audi is chasing a 14th win in 16
years with its diesel hybrid car but faces a tough battle from 16-times winner
Porsche, which returned with a full factory effort in 2014.
Porsche last won the race in 1998.