'Maybe it needs a catastrophe to make them react'
12 June 2011
Following the horrific high-speed accident from which his team-mate Mike Rockenfeller miraculously emerged seemingly unscathed, Romain Dumas has spoken out to criticise the gaping difference in lap time and skill levels between the professional drivers and their amateur counterparts in this weekend's Le Mans 24 Hours – musing aloud that 'perhaps we need to wait for a catastrophe to get something done about it'.
Rockenfeller had just relieved Peugeot rival Marc Gené of second place shortly before 11pm local time, when he came up to lap the GTE Pro class AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia driven by Le Mans debutant Rob Kauffman at the high-speed kink on the run towards Indianapolis.
Apparently not realising the defending race-winner was alongside him, Kauffman pulled to the right and spun 'Rocky' straight across his bows, sending the Audi R18 TDi into the catch-fencing at unabated speed and spiralling horrendously up into the air, disintegrating as it went. With the car rebounding across the circuit and barely recognisable once it finally landed, somehow, the German managed to extract himself from the cockpit and clamber to safety. He has since been transported to hospital for further checks.
“We could talk to him, and he is giving normal answers,” confirmed Head of Audi Motorsport, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. “What we have seen is that he tried to overtake the slower GT car at full-throttle and high-speed in the kink after Indianapolis. It looks as if the other driver didn't see him, and moved into him as he went past.”
Contrary to some speculation, Ullrich added that the race-leading #2 car piloted by qualifying star Benoît Tréluyer, André Lotterer and Marcel Fässler will not be withdrawn from competition in response to the accidents suffered by Rockenfeller and, much earlier, Allan McNish.
“The #2 car is alone now, with no support from any other Audi, but that doesn't change anything in our strategy,” he stressed. “We are trying to stay consistent and avoid too many risks. That's the only thing we can do.”
Dumas, for his part, was rather more forthright in expressing his views on the matter, bluntly rebuffing any notions that visibility difficulties for the Audi drivers contributed to the two shunts and arguing that competitors should be of a certain standard before they are passed fit to compete at La Sarthe.
“I spoke about it at the start of the weekend,” the Frenchman railed. “There's not even any question. Rocky has been the victim of an accident with an amateur, who hit him on a straight at more than 300km/h.
“Normally, when you're more than 35 seconds-a-lap slower than your team-mate, you start to have nothing to do with being here. When the gaps are so narrow [between the front-runners], you can't afford to risk losing too much time, and when someone hits you like that, Mike couldn't do anything; the other driver turned into him on the straight. Happily, he got out of the car and for the moment, he seems to be okay.
“It's not a problem of visibility. If someone turns into you on the straight, what can you do? It wasn't Mike's fault; it's simply a problem of the level [of ability]. The trouble is, clearly, that at those speeds, the track is unforgiving. Perhaps we need to wait for a catastrophe to get something done about it.
“The race is spoiled, but there's still an Audi in the fight. It's a shame, because the cars are quick, but bad luck seems to be on our side. These kinds of situation are definitely not due to driver error from our drivers, but that's racing.”
Kauffman was subsequently disqualified from the race for ten times failing to observe flashing blue lights to indicate that he was about to be lapped.