Audi's R10 TDI has become the first diesel-powered car to triumph in the Petit Le Mans, by dint of a four-lap victory in the 1,000-mile race at Road Atlanta this weekend.
The American endurance classic signalled the R10's seventh consecutive success since its competition debut in the Sebring 12 Hours back in March, as well as maintaining the marque's unbeaten record in the Petit Le Mans.
It came courtesy of a superb drive from recently-crowned 2006 American Le Mans Series champions Allan McNish and Dindo Capello. The result also ensured Audi clinched the manufacturers' crown in the series two races early, and means the R10 has completed the clean sweep of the three most prestigious sportscar races in the world – the Le Mans 24 Hours, Sebring 12 Hours and now the Petit Le Mans – in its maiden season of activity.
McNish and Capello's success came despite Audi having to carry an extra 65kg of weight in comparison to its petrol-driven rivals. Consistent lap times, a good strategy, fast pit-stops and the low fuel consumption of the V12 TDI engine were pivotal to the end result.
Indeed, with seven of the ten hours completed a one-two finish was looking very much on the cards, with team-mates Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner lying in second position in the sister car, but just 13 minutes from the end a collision with a slower GT car broke the R10's front suspension and condemned the trio to a premature finish. They were ultimately classified seventh overall, and fourth in LMP1.
“It was an extremely hard race from the start with the very fast pace of the Zytek and Creation,” McNish said afterwards. “The race came to us as the ambient temperature dropped and our car got quicker and quicker.
“It feels good to have scored a diesel's first 'Petit' win – like we achieved in another of America's sportscar classic races at Sebring. I'm very proud to have achieved a record seventh LMP1 class win in a season.”
Biela, for his part, was disappointed but phlegmatic about the failure to make it an Audi one-two at the chequered flag.
“It looked pretty good for us for quite a while,” he commented. “I was happy with my stints, I was running at the front and Emanuele and Marco also did a great job and were fighting hard. At the end we simply had bad luck. You can't blame anybody for this.”
“The race started with a good first stint,” Werner added. “But then somehow things did not continue as well, neither for Emanuele nor for me.
“During the final safety car period a Panoz suddenly braked extremely hard in front of me. I tried to avoid him, but spun over the kerbs and hit him. That sent me to the back of the field. When I was trying to catch up another Panoz hit me quite hard.
“Shortly after the front suspension broke when I braked for the final chicane. I was able to bring the car back to the pits, but it was unfortunately too late for repairs.”