McNish brushes aside blame for 120mph crash as Audi keep up dominance of Le Mans

Allan McNish has rejected claims he should have showed more caution in lapped traffic following his spectacular exit from the Le Mans 24 Hours race on Saturday.

The Dumfries-born driver retired the number three Audi inside the first hour of the annual endurance classic after slamming heavily into the crash barriers in an accident on lap 15.

Going under the Dunlop Bridge on entry to the Esses, McNish momentarily passed team-mate Timo Bernhard before coming to grief as he attempted to do likewise to the GTE Pro Ferrari of Anthony Beltoise.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The incident brought a shuddering halt to a hugely-promising drive by the two-time Le Mans winner, after the 41-year-old surged from fifth on the grid to first place in just 50 minutes. A tragedy was narrowly averted when one of the wheels came off, just missing a photographer, while the tyre wall did its job in preventing the car slamming into the grandstand full of spectators.

Audi subsequently lost the number one car of Mike Rockenfeller late last night to an equally big accident - the driver was kept in hospital overnight on Saturday as a precaution - but the German manufacturer regrouped magnificently to take victory yesterday afternoon courtesy of their sole remaining entry driven by Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer.

McNish welcomed a great result for the team after the race, but was quick to shoot down the suggestion that a little more patience on his part might have prevented his 120mph crash.

"I don't think so to be honest, because from where I was sitting going down the inside of that corner, there was not a risk to get into that corner," McNish said. "Anthony said he didn't see me at all, but I kept well to the right-hand side. He had as much vision as possible, I didn't stay in close to him.

"It was a safer solution than trying to squeeze in with Timo and something happening there. I think the crash is due to the fact that two into one doesn't go.

"I didn't see it as a risk, I had the momentum, I've made that overtake many, many times before, and I saw many other drivers doing it in the race afterwards.

"You can't blame people in these circumstances. It's a part of racing and it's part of Le Mans." After the dust settled from the horrific shunts, the sister R18 TDI of Lotterer, Fassler and Treluyer fended off Peugeot's stern challenge to secure the team's tenth win at this event in the past 12 years.

The manufacturer has rarely been out of the spotlight at Circuit de la Sarthe this weekend, but come the climax they could at least claim to be there for all the right reasons.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Once Audi had been reduced to just one car, Peugeot immediately sensed their chance and applied the pressure The French team hit the front during the pit stops in the 14th hour, with Simon Pagenaud part of the crew of Sebastien Bourdais and Pedro Lamy leading from Fassler, who in turn was enjoying a good dice with Anthony Davidson in the number seven car.

A safety car period in the 15th hour wiped out Pagenaud's lead, allowing Davidson and Fassler to renew rivalries at the front.

The Audi eventually imposed itself on the Peugeot to pull away in the next hour, but with Treluyer at the wheel a fifth safety car period of the race saw the leaders bunch up again.

The number seven Peugeot dropped out of contention in the 19th hour when Wurz crashed out of third, the Austrian going straight on at Indianapolis and damaging the nose of his car. Although he was able to recover to the pits, Wurz had lost significant time on the leaders and fell to fourth. The game of cat and mouse continued through the closing hours of the race, with matters becoming a little heated at one stage as the number seven car of Marc Gene tangled with Lotterer as the Audi lapped the Peugeot along the Mulsanne straight where speeds of 240mph are possible.

But it was not just other cars impeding the Audi's progress, with sporadic rain showers affecting proceedings inside the final three hours. Almost instantly the slippery conditions caused accidents for the number 22 Kronos Lola and the number ten ORECA Peugeot, which shed some of its bodywork in the off but recovered without losing fifth.

The LMP2 leader, the number 41 Zytek-Nissan, also hit trouble in the wet, getting stuck in the gravel at the Esses, although their category lead was never under threat with their nearest challenger more than ten laps behind. But out front the remaining Audi was imperious, never putting a wheel wrong in the difficult conditions as it held of the fierce challenge of the number nine Peugeot.

So close was the extraordinary tussle the outcome was not settled until the very last round of pit stops with around 35 minutes remaining. Audi, with around a 35-second lead, took the chance on changing both fuel and tyres while the number nine Peugeot just took on fuel, but the gamble paid off as Lotterer emerged in front and quickly set about pressing home his advantage on his victorious run to the flag.

After 24 hours of gripping action, it fell to Lotterer to take the number two car across the line - having completed 355 laps - some 14 seconds ahead of the number nine Peugeot of Sebastien Bourdais, Simon Pagenaud and Pedro Lamy. The number eight Peugeot of Stephane Sarrazin, Franck Montagny and Nicolas Minassian completed the podium.