Event>>2009 Le Mans 24 Hours – Reflections Part 1

When two tribes go to war, one is all you can score…………………………

Well they finally did it, Peugeot won the Big One. The 2009 24 Heures du Mans. The Lion has roared.

The number 9 Peugeot 908 Hdi-FAP driven by Alexander Wurz, Marc Gene and David Brabham covered 382 laps of the 13.629 kilometre circuit, 5206 kliks in total or 3,235 miles. The average speed was a tad under 135 miles per hour, a sobering thought.

The winners were one lap up on their team mates Stephane Sarrazin, Franck Montagny and Sebastien Bourdais and six laps in front of the Audi R15 TDI of Allan McNish, Dindo Capello and Tom Kristensen. Audi were comprehensively beaten.

In 2007 Peugeot had the speed but not the reliablity to win and thereby lost out to the Audi steamroller.  Post race, I remember telling the tearful Peugeot press officer, Cecile Estenave, that it was received wisdom that it took three attempts to win a Le Mans 24, and so it came to pass this year. On Sunday she also had tears at the podium ceremony but this time they were joyful.

Peugeot thoroughly deserved their victory in the 2009 Le Mans 24 Hours, leading all but one lap. and generally being the fastest cars on track. Still they had the bitter taste of defeats in 2007 and 2008 to get rid of and they did it in style. I spoke with Allan McNish, Audi’s lead driver,  in the run up to the race and we both agreed that the car that would be the real threat to Audi’s supremacy would be the number 9 with the old hands on board.

One of the most important elements in achieving victory in Le Mans is to spend as little time in the pits as possible and that proved to be the difference between the two 908s. Number 9 spent 40 minutes and 2 seconds at rest, whereas number 8 spent a further 8 minutes 20 seconds in the pits. Number 8’s crew were generally faster but they had a transmission issue at around 6 hours costing 3 laps standing time, game over.

One of Peugeot’s biggest weaknesses in previous years has been the amount of time that their pit stops took, especially compared with the Audi. The whole team was re-organised in the wake of defeats in 2008 and they really concentrated on this area. McNish said that they had a film crew shooting every Audi stop at Sebring, he used to wave at them.

Not that you would have thought they learned anything from the past with the first set of pit stops in the race. The lollipop man on car 7 let Pedro Lamy out into the path of the Pescarolo Sport 908 that was inward bound and they made contact, giving the factory car a rear puncture. To compound this mistake Pedro set off on a lap of the track with the tyre flailing away making a nice mess of the rear. His lap took around 8 minutes and then there was the small matter of a 25 minute spell in the box to repair the damage. Pedro got a bollocking from the team manager, Serge Saulnier for not waiting and letting his crew pull him back into his pit area instead of driving on. It would be the only mistake that the efficient French team would make in the pit stops.

As for the mistake, that was blamed on photographers obstructing the view, more accurately it should have been TV crews.

Pescarolo’s Peugeot…….well they might have been in the money seats had the rains come, as they were running the old 2008 downforce set up. The 908 ran in the top six till around 4.00am when Benoit Treluyer had the mother of all accidents, barrel rolling the 908 just down from the Dunlop Bridge. For a while it looked really ugly on the TV screen as the marshals used blankets to stop the cameraman filming the scene. A bit battered, Ben emerged largely unscathed and was released by the medics after a once over. The bits of the car that remained were largely in component form and were just swept up and chucked in the skip.

How strange it is that we gone this far in the report and hardly mentioned Audi. That gives a clue to how ultimately far they were from victory in 2009.

The first problems came when Peugeot protested the legality of the Audi’s front bodywork. Specifically they asserted Article 3.6.2 of the technical regulations is being flouted by the current arrangements. The protest was rejected by the ACO leaving Peugeot the option of appealing to the FIA in Paris. More about this in a later feature.

The distraction of the protest did not aid Audi’s cause but other issues were going to hurt them much more. The cancellation of the Test Day and rain on the first practice day meant that their track time was severly restricted, so getting a balance on the car proved a elusive. During Thursday qualifying a stunning lap from Allan McNish and some smart timing by the Joest crew kept pole from Peugeot right till the last minute but Sarrazin would not be denied. All of this flattered to deceive.

There was a lack of mechanical grip on the R15’s front end which no amount of McNish bravado could compensate for. During the race this problem was attacked by the engineers fitting new nose assemblies to each of the cars but until the cool of the night it had little effect. These woes were compounded by dust getting onto the turbo intercoolers and cooking them after about 5 laps at full boost. Turning things down to cool off meant that sub 3:30 laps were not possible and the Peugeots were able to romp away.  Audi’s new car and lack of racing in 2009 really left them exposed to these kinds of issues. It was most un-Audi like………..we all agreed.

As if these issues were not enough the drivers decided to press the self destruct button. Alexander Premat led this disastrous process, spinning at Indianapolis a few laps into the race, damaging the front and the ensuing repairs cost the 3 car a lap. Later a fuel pressure problem led to a lengthy stop to replace a high pressure diesel pump. Over three hours were spent in the pits and 17th overall, some 49 laps down on the winner was the sum total of this effort.

At least they finished………….six and half hours into the race Lucas Luhr lost control of his R15 TDI in the first part of the Porsche Curves, destroying the rear end. Audi blamed driver error but I am not totally convinced. I had been out at that spot some 20 minutes earlier and Lucas was genuinely scary through the corner. The rear of the Audi would bottom out, sparking furiously, and LL caught the car both times I witnessed this. I was with Marshall Pruett (SpeedTV.com) and Wouter Melissen (UltimateCarPage.com)., we all agreed that this sort of high wire act would end in tears and it did. Of course it never occured to Lucas to lift at this point, but then he is a racer………

So Audi were down to one car, the Old Guard of McNish, Kristensen and Capello struggled on as best they could, here is an early nose change. But the Peugeots held the whip hand and would not easily let go of their advantage, it certainly felt like it was finally their year.

Another supreme effort from McNish during the early hours kept the number 1 car in touch with the leading pair. The soft Michelin rubber gave the car some sort of balance back and he could fly along at near 908 pace.

However, the race was effectively decided around the 13 hour mark when Capello was forced to make two pit stops to clean sand and grit from the intercooler, a lap was lost and that was that. The car had further issues with the rear suspension and an electrical problem in the dashboard…………not what we have come to expect from Audi. They will head back to Ingolstadt to conduct an inquest into the shortcomings of the campaign, expect them to return stronger.

Next up we’ll look at the best of the rest and the GT classes.

Photography by John Brooks and David Lister

-John Brooks

Le Mans 2009 Coverage on Speedhunters



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The end of an era...


the french officials are biased in favor of peugeot.


Excellent photos, been worth the wait


I'm an Audi Fan and I hardly think that the victory had anything to do with any sort of bias. Audi had an under developed car with very little real racing under it's belt. They shot themselves in the foot by not running at least a partial ALMS schedule, and they paid the price, as is evidenced by the problems they had....


i watched the whole thing except maybe 3 hours midway thanks to a nap....i'd like to see one race inwhich the two teams are even enough to battle it out. But that doesnt mean I want FIA or ACO to implement this, id like to see it by chance. by the teams both using new and dialed in cars.....i dont want to see incresing technological restrictions, which will happen because they want to make the petrol cars more competitive next year.lame! maybe aston martin should just build a diesel or try a little bit harder.


NICO is also right! i saw that the entire time!


I was really disapointed in Audi's lack of testing. I think if they stuck to traditions of years past they would of been much closer to the 908's. I think some ones head got to big and they thought they had everything figured out.

Oh well, congrats to Peugeot


I think Audi got complacent and decided to rest on their past victories.............the lion has been tamed.....I only wish Mazda would come back with the mighty Rotary!!!!


Great post John, I was pleased that Peugeot finally broke through the Audi domination of recent years.

I managed to get a few shots in - poking my lens over and around the fences!


Hope you like them.


Haha, seriously, not what I'd expect from Audi, or any of the Germans for that matter, but it seems that's the case. Nice lights from the side of the Audi in the 2nd last pic, reminds me of an airplane!


At last! a Le Mans post.

The race was for Peugeot to loose,,,,and unlike last year, the No9 car was faultless. Never ended up in the garage and paced itself.

Audi lost the race partly due to running


Folks........apologies for the late post..............no excuses! My fault entirely.

@NICO I am not sure what you base your assertions of bias on.........there was no evidence of this during the race. Do you know something that I don't.

According to Marco Werner, Audi did some 20,000 kilometres of testing but this year they could not get data at Le Mans till the Thursday evening.....and a substantial proportion was held in wet conditions......Peugeot finally got properly focused and did the job they should have done for the past two years. Audi did not fulfil their potential. Sometime it happens to the best run outfits, they will be back stronger.


Mazda did at least provide some engines. I'd be shocked to ever see a factory backed rotary at Le Sarthe again, as the engine configuration was banned.


I really agree with John...Audi is starting to become..unAudi


Well I stick to what I stated in my Le Mans post in the forums, Audi just simply didn't have the experience Peugeot had this year. And by experience I don't mean time at Le Mans because obviously Audi knows Le Mans but what I mean is the car. 3 seasons of development for Peugeot on a car that was competitive to begin with and Audi comes in with a brand new one; it is honestly IMO very impressive that Audi managed to still grab a podium spot with such an untested chassis, just shows you the skills of the Audi guys. Next season will be Audi's so long as they don't have any real big problems, the R15 has already shown itself to be better than the 908 if you consider what it did during the conditions not to mention McNish and TK both said that the R15 was much better through the corners than the R10 was. All in all it was a fantastic race to watch and I can't wait for next years intensity!


If we know anything about Audi it's that they'll come back flying next year. Peugeot stepped up and earned a deserved victory. The FIA definitely needs to do something to bridge the diesel-petrol performance gap though. Adding 30k kilos obviously did nothing to hinder the diesels' performance.


Yeah, Audi's defeat was due to using a brand new car that was virtually untested, thus they didn't know what problems to expect. I recall McNish saying the car had heavy understeer, something they could have probably remedied had they tested more.

I agree with liamsil80; something has to be done to make the non-diesel cars more competitive. It's as if the diesels are in their own class above P1.


I managed to watch 21 of the 24 hours. Last year i started watching before the race began and fell asleep with 1 hour to go. I was so mad.

Anyways, this year's race was really good for the sport. Peugeot really needed to win for themselves and to show Audi is breakable. You have to go back to the R8R to reach a time when Audi got a third instead of a first.

McNish all the way for 2010!


No worries on the delays John...maybe you could make up for it by doing some more retrospectives? =)

I have to say I was actually cheering for the Lola / Aston Martin's the whole race. They looked fantastic, and there's something about a screaming V12 that says Le Mans, more than a diesel ever will. Maybe that's me, and 10-20 years from now people will be lamenting the sweet sounds of the diesels...

I say bring back the Group C fuel rationing rules....perhaps total fuel available to use has to do with potential energy (which diesel has more of) therefore it will level things out. Not to penalize people for working on newer technology, but to even the playing field, so to speak.


Any more info on Benoit Treluyer's crash? I can't find any video of the crash on Youtube...

Anyway, congrats to Peugeot on their well deserved win.


1: Desktop of the darkened Audi R15 shot! http://ll.dev.speedhunters.com/u/f/eagames/NFS/dev.speedhunters.com/Images/JohnBrooks/09%20Le%20Mans%204/09LeMans24_jb_8383.jpg



2. I think part of Audi's problem is their lack of racing in ALMS or LMES. I think there's something about racing, over testing, that really brings out more of the challenges you'd ultimately face as a team.


(second shot from the bottom is what I was requesting a desktop of!)


@Muzaffar..........Ben barrel rolled on his out lap at around 4.00am.........he had just left the pits after changing the nose and engine cover............the TV missed the accident.............so it is not clear what caused the accident..........driver error? unlikely at that point, cold tyres catching him out? bodywork coming loose? No doubt we will find out in due course.



John and Muzaffar, I found these quote's from Benoit about the crash.

“The team had called me back to the pits for a scheduled fuel stop. They also took the opportunity to clean out the side pods, as I was forced to put two wheels on the grass to avoid a GT2 Ferrari,” Benoît goes on. “While doing this, the engineers noticed the front splitter was damaged and decided to change it. I knew that the car’s behaviour would change because of this and as I returned to the track, I remained cautious. The car’s balance was good with a little more oversteer than before, but not too much.

“Then I started to get back into a normal rhythm but as I approached the La Forêt curves the car suddenly went light and snapped sideways. I did not have the chance to be slowed down by the gravel trap as the car took off straight away.”


AUDI 4eva well dun to peugeot for winning it audi had an under developed car....i wana see then do it again next year never coz audi will be back on track GO TEAM AUDI ....!


It's all in the details................. Three days running around the grounds of Goodwood House