One of the year’s most prestigious, and most grueling, sporting events gets underway on Saturday with the racing of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Celebrating its 90th anniversary, the ultimate test of racing endurance begins at 9 a.m. ET.
Once again Audi are the team to beat, with their cars claiming the top three spots in qualifying over Wednesday and Thursday. The renowned German manufacturer, winners of the famed sportscar race for 11 of the last 13 years, becomes the first team to achieve the feat since they did it in 2002. French driver Loic Duval set the pole time in Audi’s No2 car early on Wednesday before rain fell on Thursday. Duval is joined in the car by eight-time winner Tom Kristensen and two-time winner Allan McNish.
The No1 Audi R18 e-tron, driven by Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer -- winners of the race for the last two years -- will start second, ahead of the No3 car shared by Marc Gene, Lucas di Grassi and Oliver Jarvis.
The team looking to challenge Audi dominance is Toyota. The Japanese manufacturer’s TS030 Hybrid got their two cars on fourth and fifth at the Circuit de la Sarthe, with the No8 of Anthony Davidson, Stephane Sarrazin and Sebastien Buemi just ahead of the No7 of Alex Wurtz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima. Toyota has an extra three liters of fuel capacity and will have to take advantage of their ability to go for longer stints in order to get among the Audis. Far from the situation in the past when cars could endure extended spells being worked on in the garage, the race now is run at a constant sprint for a full 24 hours with little room for serious problems.
McNish suffered such an incident with a major crash in 2011, but the former Toyota Formula One driver has had no hesitations about coming back to try and once more conquer the unique challenge of the event.
"If there's something lurking in the back of your mind, you stop racing and you do something else and you get a desk job,” he told Reuters. “It's that simple. If your inner instinct says you don't want to drive down a circuit at an average speed of 150mph in the middle of the night then you don't do it.”
Where to watch: The 24 Hours of Le Mans will be screened live on Speed TV. On-board and pit lane cameras will be available on SpeedTV.com, with full race coverage on offer between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. ET and 7 and 7.30 p.m.