LE MANS
The 24 Hours
-
17/06/2001
 
The 69th 24 Hours
First Race Report
 
[Race coverage begins on this page, with front page links (top left) being added as coverage evolves into further pages (or use the race index). We'll endeavour to provide commentary throughout the race, with images added as regularly as possible. Peter Radcliffe should be spending the 24 hours hurrying up and down to the pits to find the quotes to add the first hand views of this classic race.

We will also be adding race positions every 6 hours (no, we couldn't manage every 6 hours, so it's 8), and updating Ascari and PK Sport Ricardo reports throughout the race...we hope.]

The weather. Local reports suggest that the daylight hours throughout the race will see occasional heavy showers, while the night hours should be dry. Better that way round than vice versa. We're just about two hours away as this is written.

As the cars head off for their first out lap, it's noticebaly damp / wet on Mulsanne and as far back as the Porsche Curves - proven by the fact that Bruno Lambert spins at Indianapolis and leaves the nose of the RML Saleen in the gravel. The cars pile back in to the pits to fit.....slicks, as late as possible. Because the skies look threatening. Tony Burgess also spins the Seikel Porsche #82, and is buried in the gravel at the second Mulsanne Chicane. This is going to be very interesting.

Bruno Lambert gets back to the pits for a quick checkover - and a fresh set of slicks. Dark clouds are looming.

Starting drivers in some of the really significant entries -

Biela and Aiello in the Joest cars
Lammers in the Dutch Dome
Kelleners in the Champion R8
Beretta in the quickest Chrysler
Johansson in the Gulf Audi
Brundle and Wallace in the Bentleys

Konrad in the pole GTS Saleen
Fellows in the #63 Corvette
Belloc in the Larbre Viper

Gulf and Joest (#1) are adjusting settings to dry - or at least a drier compromise. The sun is shining, but........this is rather similar to 1987's weather. The Bentley squad have effectively no wet weather experience of their car. 15 minutes to go and slicks are the favoured choice through the field.

Final formation lap, and with Lammers, Kelleners, Johansson and Beretta sitting behind the silver steamroller, perhaps we're in for some action early on. Lammers is the favoured TMS choice to grab the TV coverage, on a still dampish looking track in places. The Callaway is starting from the pit-lane, Cort Wagner at the wheel. Starting from the back, with a full tank of fuel - clever.

Very slow at the Ford Chicane, closely packed - apart from the WR pitting. And a Courage. Lammers takes second at the Dunlop Chicane, Beretta takes third at Tertre Rouge. Brundle is also on the move, and there are MGs mixing it with the 900 pack. Lammers is slipping back from Aiello by Indianapolis, the Dutchman only just ahead of Beretta and Biela. Beretta threatens at Ford Chicanes.



They're queueing behind Lammers - Beretta, Biela, Brundle, Johansson, Wallace, Kelleners. Biela passes Beretta at first Mulsanne Chicane, Brundle passes the Chrysler on top speed before Mulsanne Corner. Great racing. Like a sprint.

Lammers holds off Biela ending lap two. Aiello is 12 seconds ahead (3:39 on lap 2) after two laps. Lammers and Biela have a gap over Brundle and Johansson, then Wallace, Kelleners, Beretta and Gache.



The MGs are sandwiching the Nielsen Dome, Yannick Dalmas having gone through the gravel at Mulsanne Corner in Chrysler #15. The MGs are quicker than the Chrysler and Cadillac ahead.

Johansson is pressuring Brundle, who locks up at Dunlop Chicane. Rain falls at Indianapolis and Porsche Curves (15 minutes) - very heavy, Aiello meets it first, and crawls along. Johansson stuffs the Gulf car at Indianapolis, nose off, car in the gravel. He gets going again. Bernard buries his Cadillac in the gravel at the Porsche Curves.



Brundle pits for wets, but it's bright sunshine over the pits. Biela pits before him, Aiello stays out.



Safety Cars out, after a very big accident just before the entrance to the Porsche Curves - FFSA Viper, Pilbeam, a Pescarolo Courage and a black Saleen (#61) - some of the drama visible in the background, above. The Larbre Viper has also had a big front ender somewhere. Carnage, basically. Aiello leads by 40 seconds from Lammers, then Brundle and Wallace (who pits for wets), then Biela, then the two MGs, but the #34 has pitted for rear wing adjustment (!). Reid had hit the wall somewhere.

Lambert leads GTS from Konrad, Fellows and Vosse. Taisan then Freisinger (Dumas) head GT from Luca Drudi in the faster Seikel Porsche and the PK Sport Porsche in fourth.

Toni Seiler gets his damaged Saleen back to the pits for major front end repairs. Milka Duno has brought in the slower Barbour Reynard - out of the race.

Aiello has a huge lead having not pitted, Lammers and Brundle being well back, but not behind a Safety Car. Aiello pits after six laps, changing to wets. There is a suspicion of trouble for Aiello's R8. First chink? The car is wheeled into its pit, so Lammers leads from Brundle. Aiello had tagged the wall somewhere.





Terrien crawls back almost to the pits in the heavily damaged FFSA Viper, and noses into the gravel before the pit entrance. The car looks wrecked. It is towed away....gets moving again, and noses into the next gravel trap (no steering). That must be the end of one favoured GTS runner.

35 minutes and the SCs are still out there, as rain falls at the pit area. Lammers pits so Bentley lead Le Mans. Biela is second and.... Klaas Graf is third. "At least we've led Le Mans," says Jan Lammers' partner Mark Koense. "23 and a half hours too early!" But Lammers is stuck at pit exit, with the re-nosed Gulf Audi, waiting for a SC to pass through.

The Porsches seem to be avoiding the mayhem that has been the opening 40 minutes. Another tale of damage - the #56 Belmondo Viper was hit hard up the back by a Corvette, not sure which one. The Viper has rear suspension damage, and needs a new floor.

45 minutes, and the rain is very heavy down Mulsanne. The SC pulls off and the two groups get down to it. Vincent Vosse leads GTS for Belmondo, PK Sport lead GT, Mike Youles at the wheel.

Brundle (inters) leads, but Reid unlaps himself in the MG! Then loses out at the Dunlop Chicane. Graf (on slicks) passes Biela (wets) for second! Biela gets him back, but this is the only R8 in contention right now. The others are in 13th (Kelleners), 14th (Aiello), and 40th (Johansson).

Brundle escapes, as Biela and Graf catch up with Reid's lapped MG. Graf gets ahead of Biela again, on the drier bits. Brundle is lapping in 4:10, Graf in 4:18. Graf pulls away from Biela, and a Panoz is leading its class. Lammers pits for wets, so Nielsen goes fourth, two minutes down - but currently the fastest man on the track. Lammers is stationary in pit lane. Is it the clutch? No. "I lost it on the straight. Silly mistake, although I was going slowly. It will be a while before we are back on the screen."


Approaching the end of hour 1, and it's been a real fight for many. Graf at 4:06 is fastest on lap 11, almost a second faster than Brundle, who still leads - and is looking for wetter parts of the track. Nielsen completes his 11th lap two minutes later and is marginally faster than Graf.

Lupberger is then fastest man on that lap in the #20 Ascari, a 4:05. Graf pits from second, Biela from third, both for fuel. Biela stays in, and replaces wets with inters.

de Radigues is in 10th in #36 Reynard, leading 675 by half a minute from Blundell in the MG - who is the fastest man on the track....until Pompidou comes through at 3:55 in the Ascari; it's changing all the time here. Ron Fellows leads GTS, Youles still leads GT. He seems to like changing conditions, 90 seconds ahead of Romain Dumas in the repaired Freisinger Porsche. The WR missed the carnage - it didn't start the race until about the one hour mark.

Terrien finally hauls the FFSA Viper into pit lane. Brundle pits after 67 minutes, and goes back out in.......second, as Klaus Graf leads the race. Lammers is still sitting in his car in pit-lane.

Mark Blundell is catching de Radigues very quickly for the 675 lead and seventh place, with Beretta and Dalmas in fifth and sixth.








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