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Preview: 77th Les 24 Heures du Mans

Peugeot will try again to defeat Audi
Thursday, June 04, 2009

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Audi in 2008 race
"What a race! I was there!" are the words that every fan expects to exclaim after Les 24 Heures du Mans 2009.

Les 24 Heures du Mans is a thrilling 24-hour non-stop race that takes place at the 13.629 kilometer Circuit de la Sarthe, a track about twice the length of most F1 circuits that is located about 200 kilometers southwest of Paris. The annual race attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators and this year is likely to be no exception.

The big question in the minds of the spectators for this 77th edition, where Rolex is the "Official Timekeeper", is who will win this legendary race. The fight is clearly a three-way battle between teams from Aston-Martin, Peugeot and Audi, with Audi notably having won eight of the last nine editions of the race. The next question on everyone's mind is how many of the drivers will actually see the checkered flag at 15:00 on Sunday, 14 June 2009. In the 2008 edition, only 33 of the original 55 starting teams managed to complete this challenging race that eliminates all but the best.

Finish of 2008 race
"Rolex / Jad Sherif"
The Automobile Club de l'Ouest received 82 entries for Les 24 Heures du Mans 2009, only six fewer entries than in 2008 despite the world's current economic state. Of those 82 entries 55 have been accepted _ as usual - for the prestigious rolling start for teams present for Free Practice on Wednesday 10 June. Amongst the teams competing in the 2009 edition are a large number of potential winners in the overall classification, as well as in each of the four categories: 21 cars in LM P1, 12 in LM P2, 8 in LM GT1 and 14 in LM GT2. There are ten Ferrari F430 GTs up against five Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs (997), plus one Spyker C8 Laviolette and one V8 Aston Martin entered by Drayson Racing. It is all a question of taste and there is plenty of variety.

For the 2009 edition, Aston Martin, Audi and Peugeot have a total of 12 cars out for victory. Perhaps it will be the 4-car Peugeot armada that blocks Audi's road to success. Peugeot came second in 2007 and 2008, for the 75th and 76th editions of Les 24 Heures du Mans, where Rolex is the "Official Timekeeper" since 2001. On paper, the team looks to have all the necessary resources to win with three diesel LM P1 prototype 908 HDi FAPs and nine talented drivers: Sébastien Bourdais (FRA), David Brabham (GBR), Marc Gené (ESP), Christian Klien (AUT), Pedro Lamy (PRT), Nicolas Minassian (GBR) who just won the 1000 of Spa, and in the third Peugeot prototype Franck Montagny (FRA), Stéphane Sarrazin (FRA) and Alexander Wurz (AUT). For the first time in their history Peugeot Sport have even asked private outfit Pescarolo Sport to run a fourth car (number 17)- it is worth nothing is that Henri Pescarolo holds the record for the most 24 Heures du Mans participations.

Audi, on the other hand, has done some innovating this year with the R15 TDI, a car that won its first victory in the 12 Hours of Sebring in March 2009. Audi's aim is to score its ninth victory here in Le Mans, a record equal Ferrari's. The Audi drivers for 2009 are: Timo Bernhard (DEU), Dindo Capello (ITA), Romain Dumas (FRA), Tom Kristensen (DNK), Lucas Luhr (DEU), Allan McNish (MCO), Alexandre Premat (FRA), Mike Rockenfeller (DEU) and Marco Werner (DEU). The works cars will be backed up by two R10s entered by Dr Colin Kolles' private team. This year, Mazda will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of their first class win at Le Mans, in 1984, when their engine also powered a British-built Lola chassis. Mazda won the race outright in 1991 and remain the only Japanese manufacturer to have ever achieved this feat.

Some big names to be present for the 2009 edition of Les 24 Heures du Mans include ex-F1 drivers Anthony Davidson (GBR), Alex Wurz (AUT), Jan Magnussen (DNK), David Brabham (GBR), Olivier Panis (FRA) and, with an eighth Le Mans participation for the second time in a Peugeot 908, Sebastien Bourdais (FRA). The flying Indian Narain Karthikeyan also discovers Le Mans this year and will become the first Indian driver to have participated in Les 24 Heures du Mans.

Also in action will be Christjian Albers (NLD), ex-F1 test driver Giorgio Mondini (ITA), former World Cup skier Luc Alphand (FRA) and actor Patrick Dempsey (USA), famous for his role in the hit TV series "Grey's Anatomy." Dempsey races regularly in the USA but will be a rookie at Le Mans this year and will be obliged to complete the obligatory 10 laps on 10 June if he wishes to add his name to the list of 277 drivers eligible to race in this year's event. Dempsey follows in the footsteps of legendary actors Steve McQueen, who competed at Le Mans in 1970, and Paul Newman, who won his class and finished second overall in Les 24 Heures du Mans 1979.

For this edition there will even be a British Lord, who is also the Minister for Science and Innovation, making his debut in the 2009 edition of Les 24 Heures du Mans. A man of passion when it comes to motor racing, Lord Drayson has entered a V8 Aston Martin in LMGT2 (number 87).

Looking towards Asia there will be two Hong Kong drivers featured this year: Matthew Marsch and Darryl O'Young. Darryl is a rookie, but two years after becoming the first Hong Kong driver to compete in Les 24 Heures du Mans, Matthew Marsh is returning to drive the Flex-Box Lola: an open-top racer powered by a 500bhp turbo-charged Mazda engine. The car is run by the German team Kruse-Schiller Motorsport (KSM) and competes in the LM P2 class for prototypes. Top speed on the Le Mans' Mulsanne Straight is expected to exceed 280 kilometers per hour.

26-year old Guillaume Moreau will share the OAK Racing Team Mazda France LMP2 Pescarolo-Mazda (number 35) with Matthieu Lahaye (FRA) and Karim Ajlani (FRA), in what will be his third time participating in this iconic event at Le Circuit de la Sarthe.

The LM P2 category boasts a superb field of 11 cars, including two Porsche RS Spyders. 35-year old Seiji Ara, one of the winning Japanese drivers who has already won Le Mans in 2004 in the Audi R8, will also be present. Bruno Senna (BRA) will also be sharing his debut at the 2009 event with Stephane Ortelli (MCO) and Tiago Monteiro (PRT), who has already raced twice at Le Mans.

The Honorary starter this year is Luca di Montezemolo, President of Ferrari, who is sure to wish some extra luck to the Italian cars competing in this legendary race.

More than 250,000 spectators are expected onsite in Le Mans for what is now a weeklong tribute to automobile reliability and development. Free Practice is provisionally set for the evening of Wednesday, 10 June, followed by Qualifying Practice on the evening of Thursday, 11 June. Lucky fans also have a chance to see drivers and their cars up close during Friday's Drivers' Parade, a much anticipated event that takes place in the Le Mans city centre the day before the official race start. The race begins on Saturday at 15:00 and finishes precisely 24 hours later before the thousands of spectators who turn out to watch the finish live.

Rolex is the "Official Timekeeper" for the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Le Mans Series. The new Asian Le Mans Series is set to launch this winter with events in Japan and China, and, in North America, Rolex has been the title sponsor for the Rolex 24 At Daytona since 1992.

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