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Monday 18th June 2012


PH BLOG: HAS AUDI RUINED LE MANS?

There's dominance and there's dominance, but does Audi's 11th victory in 13 years detract from the magic of Le Mans?


Should we be worried that Audi has won Le Mans yet again? Or should we celebrate what is, even with the money-no-object dominance, a pretty amazing achievement?

I'm torn. As a Le Mans first-timer I found Audi's 'ownership' of the event impossible to ignore. Or escape. Yes, my Le Mans was shamelessly enhanced by the Audi corporate dollar, the view from the Audi Racing Terrace at the Dunlop Bridge nearly as good as the crisp pilsner on tap, the endless food, the shuttles and pinch-myself experience of watching the start leaning out of a window alongside Richard Attwood. Having enjoyed all that, am I in any position to be cynical? Possibly not. Oh well...


The look of resignation on the faces of Le Mans regulars when the Toyota challenge crumbled and the inevitability of some sort of Audi victory presented itself was obvious. But just what is it about Audi winning so much that gets people's backs up?

The money has to play a part. Audi's investment in Le Mans is incredible and so completely out of step with anyone else's it's hard to avoid the sense the race has been bought. Any true Le Mans fan shouldn't begrudge success on the track, but it's the lack of corporate humility - an arrogance even - that pervades the rest of Audi's presence that's easy to scorn.

Le Mans has always celebrated the underdog spirit, the triumph of true grit over privilege, and at the sharp end of the race that can still be true. And I guess it's this sense, correct or otherwise, that Audi has simply paid its way to the top that sticks in the craw.


In some senses Audi is only partly to blame. After all, they'd probably relish a proper race with someone as much as anyone. So long as they eventually win, of course. So it's partly a case of someone being up to offering a challenge. The flipside of this is who, seeing the Audi presence at Le Mans, would think it's even worth the bother? It comes to something when Toyota is considered an underdog.

Audi's challenge now is in the presentation. This story on Autocar I read before the race 'humanised' the story of Audi at Le Mans far more than any official material. I want to know about board members in the garage in the small hours with their sleeves rolled up, hands covered in oil. There IS passion at Audi. It just seems to get written out of the official version of events.

The technical achievements should be celebrated too. To get two hybrid cars first and second after 24 hours of racing in the first year of trying is amazing, ditto the technology like carbon-fibre gearbox casings used for the first time this year. And yet you get the sense the cars win almost despite the fallible human beings paid to guide them around the track and, as an organisation, Audi would almost prefer to run the E Trons like the Scalextric cars they sometimes look like.


It's this mentality that can mean the victory celebrations and corporate chest-beating drown out the very real dramas that unfold during the race - stuff like the sight of a frantic Romain Dumas scrambling out of his car and single-handedly ripping off huge sections of damaged bodywork in a desperate attempt to get his car back to the pits, one front wheel dangling on broken suspension, and stay in the race.

That's not multi-million euro investment in action - that's one man's grit and determination in the face of apparently impossible odds. That's what Le Mans is about. If Dumas drove for another team he'd be celebrated as a hero. Because he was in an Audi we all shrug and say 'yeah, whatever.'

So, Audi, there's the challenge. You can win the race. But stop making it look so easy and we might love you for it more! Celebrate the cock-ups, the moments where it looks like it might all unravel and blow up in your face. And by all means keep winning!

Dan

Author: Dan Trent