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Jun 20, 2014 - 05:30 PM
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Victory Number Three!
Posted by: newsla on Jun 20, 2014 - 05:28 PM
Le Mans News
Victory Number Three!


Benoît Tréluyer and team-mates Marcel Fässler and André Lotterer emerged victorious in one of the most hotly-contested Le Mans 24 Hours in recent memory, with Audi Sport’s #2 crew raising the famous trophy for the third time in four years. The now-triple Le Mans winner looks back on his triumphant journey in just as many steps.

 

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Three key moments before the race

A frustrating beginning to the season

“I immediately felt confident in the new R18 e-tron quattro as it performed well and was comfortable to drive. However, we received a wake-up call when we arrived at Silverstone. Encouraging pre-season tests combined with a new upgrade package gave us confidence, but for some reason we were unable to maximise our strategy and the car’s settings. Similar problems arose at Spa, which re-focused our minds on identifying and solving the issues, forming the basis of our Le Mans victory. At the final test before the 24 Hours, I felt much happier and really started to get into the groove.”

Restored confidence

“After my crash at Silverstone, and our average result in Spa, I sat down to try and work out why I wasn’t feeling comfortable after a promising pre-season. Was I causing the problems, or was it the car’s setup? While testing, Marcel [Fässler], the entire team and myself really bonded together. After Spa, I honestly didn’t think we had much chance at La Sarthe, yet I felt incredibly confident after the last test and the official Le Mans Test Day. Along with the squad, I was able to pull myself together and get my mojo back.”

The get-together tune

“From the moment I arrived in Le Mans the magic touch was instantly there with André [Lotterer] and Marcel, as it had been during our wins in 2011 and 2012. We travelled to the circuit together, cracking jokes while looking for some music that would become our ‘anthem’ during race week. In 2011 and ‘12, we found a song that pumped us up every morning. This wasn’t the case in 2013; it just didn’t come naturally. But this year we found exactly what we were looking for. We heard it one morning and it just stayed with us. The chemistry was certainly back.”

My three key moments during the race

Track walk with the engineers

“This is more about sharing than learning! We walked the circuit with our track, deputy and support engineers, and although we always remained focused on the job in hand the atmosphere was nice and relaxed. During the track walk, we immediately agreed on our approach and the race strategies we would choose for the week.”

The last qualifying session

“We almost succumbed to a classic Le Mans pitfall during qualifying. We were on the pace and very confident, although perhaps some complacency was beginning to creep in. At the end of qualifying two, the sister #3 car was one second faster, making it very tempting, for nothing more than pride, to go back out and smash their time. Our engineer Leena [Gade] could sense this, and quickly reminded us that we should stick to the plan.

“We almost lost focus again before the last qualifying session, as I still had to complete my mandatory night laps to qualify for the race. We toyed with the idea of sending the car out on a low-fuel run with new tyres, but in the end I chose to focus on getting the settings to my liking, because I knew there was still room for improvement in this area. André was on course to set a quick time in the final minutes but this wasn’t possible due to the enforcement of a ‘Slow Zone’. We were slightly frustrated because we wanted to demonstrate our raw pace, while giving the fans something to cheer about.”

Finding inspiration in the eyes of the mechanics

“One of the turning points during the race came when we saw the strength, speed and hunger of our mechanics to fix the car’s ailing turbo before Marcel and then André took to the track. I was gutted I wasn’t driving, but the entire crew cheered Marcel on as he attacked the circuit, closing our deficit to the Porsche to a lap and a half. Fired up after witnessing his progress, André took over and drove like a man possessed. The strength of our line-up actually lies in the collective might of our entire team; they’re the ones who trigger our success!”

My three key emotions during the week

Tears of fear

“I felt terrible and completely overwhelmed when I witnessed Loïc Duval’s accident. I get on very well with Loïc, but I wasn’t aware of how close we were until his crash. His dad was with my wife Mélanie in Audi hospitality when it occurred, although initially he didn’t realise it was his son. He came straight into the garage to ask about Loïc and I immediately reassured him that he would be fine. We had no accurate information at the time, but I knew I had to stay strong. We were eventually told he was okay and en route to the medical centre. Allan [McNish] was brilliant. He looked after Loïc’s dad and stayed with him the entire time, even taking him to the medical centre.

“My mechanics were around me, but I felt horribly alone after they left. I couldn’t help but think about Loïc’s wife Gaëlle and his kids. Because I normally unravel in such situations I asked André to call Loïc, and he remained strong and found the right words. We eventually received some very reassuring news, yet I was still feeling unwell. Leena noticed this and told me to take my time, because André could replace me. I thanked her for this, but told her that the best way to overcome difficult moments like these is to focus on your job. In two minutes I had recovered the strength that had earlier deserted me, and without further delay I was back in the car.”

Tears of rage

“Our pace was promising, although we weren’t taking any unnecessary risks. We were staying in touch with the leading Toyota and knew that we could be in a very strong position come the morning. During the night, a gentle serenity settled in our garage. After the Toyota in front retired, we found ourselves three laps ahead of our closest opponent, while continuing to control the pace. Then all hell broke loose when our turbo malfunctioned.

“We were at a loss to understand what was happening. It quickly reminded us of 2013, when an alternator issue surfaced while we were leading comfortably. I went to bed crestfallen, because I thought the race was over as far as we were concerned. This changed completely when I awoke. André was pushing like hell on track, though we were constantly questioning the Michelin engineers on whether our tyres would last. Following three delays, I finally climbed into the car with one objective: bring it home.

“In that situation you think anything can happen. I needed a couple of laps before settling down, but then it was a fantastic feeling. The car was performing superbly and, on the final lap, I thought back over everything that had happened during the past week.”

Tears of joy

“The on-board camera didn’t work during André’s last stint, so I felt peaceful in the knowledge that nobody would see me if I cried on the final lap. I wanted to scream and shout like Sebastian Vettel, but instead I was moved to tears. I’ve decided to dedicate this victory to the memory of Michel Raffaeli, who I felt was looking over me during the past 24 hours. I tried to hold back the tears, but I couldn’t. And then I realised that nobody could see me anyway. However, I wasn’t aware that the on-board camera had actually been fixed…

“I really thought that Marcel or André should have been driving the victory lap because of their incredible efforts following our turbo problems. They, along with Dr. Ullrich, climbed onto the car and motioned for me to continue towards the podium.

“There are so many different emotions rushing through you in the Le Mans pit-lane. It’s an incredible feeling when you see the mechanics, race marshals – even other teams – applauding. You really appreciate the unique sporting spirit of Le Mans, and sport in general, on occasions like this.

“When we won for the first time in 2011, I never thought anything could match that feeling. Despite winning again in 2012, the first for a hybrid at Le Mans, it didn’t quite feel the same, because we were battling the sister Audi. However, this year is just as special as our maiden triumph three years ago. Alongside André, Marcel and the entire team, this victory fuels our desire to come back and do it all again.”

There's little time for Benoît to enjoy his third Le Mans victory as he travels to Spa-Francorchamps for the FFSA GT Tour event this weekend (June 21/22), followed by the 24 Hours of Spa on July 26/27.

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