Le Mans despair for Allan McNish as untimely crash costs him victory
Audi took a dominant win in the 80th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours, but there was heartbreak for Scots pair Allan McNish and Marino Franchitti.
McNish, bidding to claim Audi’s first win in their new E-tron Quattro diesel hybrid, had looked on course for his third win in the world’s most demanding endurance race.
But, with just two hours 45 minutes remaining, and leading the No1 Audi of team-mate Andre Lotterer by 49 seconds, the 42-year-old from Dumfries ploughed head-on into the barrier.
McNish, the fastest man on the circuit at the time, had been forced to avoid the slower Ferrari 458 of Brazilian Jaime Melo as they sped through the Porsche Curves.
In doing so, the rear of his Audi broke loose and he was pitched on to the grass into the barriers.
Nursing severe front damage to his car, McNish coaxed the car back to the pits where his crew repaired the damage. The delay, however, cost him around nine minutes, and he rejoined in second place, more than a lap behind new leader Lotterer and the Safety Car.
“It’s a huge disappointment, because you come here for one reason, and that’s to win,” a clearly disappointed McNish said after the podium ceremony. “Don’t get me wrong, finishing on the podium at Le Mans is a great achievement, because it’s without question the toughest race in the world. But second’s not what I’m here for.”
Lotterer, meanwhile, led home an Audi clean sweep of the podium, with the No4 Audi of Mick Rockenfeller finishing third, albeit three laps further back.
Franchitti, however, was denied even the chance to take the wheel of his innovative Nissan DeltaWing in the race.
The 33-year-old from Bathgate was scheduled to take the car’s third stint, following team-mates, German Michael Krumm and Satoshi Motoyama. But after an impressive six hours, and with Motoyama behind the wheel, the DeltaWing was barged off the track by the Toyota of fellow Japanese driver Kazuki Nakajima.
The Nissan clattered heavily into the wall, coincidentally also on the exit of the Porsche Curves.
And, despite Motoyama working for more than 90 minutes trying to repair the car to get it back to the pits, the damage to both the right rear and front of the car was too severe.
“I’m just devastated for everyone involved in the whole Nissan DeltaWing program,” Franchitti explained. “Of all the things to force us out of the race, being taken out of the race by somebody else is very tough to swallow.”
But there was better news for fellow Scots, Peter Dumbreck and Ryan Dalziel. Dumbreck, the 38-year-old from Kirkcaldy who was driving a prototype for the first time since his nightmare crash in 1990, brought his JRM Honda home in sixth.
And Dalziel of Airdrie fared even better as, in addition to bringing his Starworks Honda home in seventh overall, he won the LMP2 class.
“This is a fantastic achievement by everyone in the team,” said Dalziel, who was partnered by Venezuelan Vincente Potolicchio and England’s Tom Kimber-Smith. “It makes up for two years ago when I came here and didn’t manage to compete in the race, a bit like Marino this year.
“There’s a huge amount of emotions running through me at the moment, and to do it with the Starworks team, which I’ve been with since we were a very small operation three years ago, is immense. We’ve won Le Mans: how brilliant is that? It’s the stuff of dreams for anybody involved in motorsport.”
The race though was marred by a sickening crash just five hours into the race, involving the Toyota of Anthony Davidson.
As the Englishman, lying third at the time, closed in on second place, he passed the slower Ferrari of Pierguiseppe Perazzini on the right-hand side.
The Italian, though, apparently unaware of the Toyota – which was travelling around 50mph quicker – then also moved to the right.
The front right of the Ferrari glanced the left rear of the passing Toyota, similar to the incident which caused McNish’s horror crash last year.
As the Toyota was spun in front of the Ferrari at over 100mph, fast-flowing air turned Davidson’s car into an aeroplane wing.
In a split second it became airborne. Spinning end-over-end, with first the nose of Davidson’s Toyota pointing to the track, then towards the blue sky, the car miraculously landed back on all four wheels.
But the momentum carried the Toyota, nose first, into the tyre wall at speed. Such was the ferocity of the collision that the armco behind the tyres was badly damaged.
Perazzini’s AF Corse Ferrari also speared into the tyre wall and was pitched into the air, landing upside down.
Miraculously, both drivers were able to free themselves from the carnage.
But while the Italian was uninjured, Davidson was treated at the side of the track before being taken by ambulance to hospital where he was diagnosed with two broken vertebrae.
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