Rewind: Triumph for Audi and despair for Peugeot at 2010 Le Mans 24H

The 78th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans sprouted drama and action in a new decade of endurance racing.

On June 12-13 2010, an attendance of over 230,000 spectators witnessed 56 cars (amongst four categories – LMP1, LMP2, LMGT1 and LMGT2) competing for victory at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

All four Peugeot 908 HDi FAP cars dominated qualifying to take the top four spots in the LMP1 category, with the three official Peugeot manufacturer team cars asserting their dominance ahead of the Audi R15s.

(Ten out of 18 LMP1 entries) *fastest lap-time
Grid Position (Qualifying) Car Number Team Car Day One Day Two Gap
1 – LMP1 #3 Peugeot Sport Total Peugeot 908 HDi FAP *3:19.711 3:20.212
2 – LMP1 #1 Team Peugeot Total Peugeot 908 HDi FAP *3:20.317 3:22.007 + 0.606
3 – LMP1 #2 Team Peugeot Total Peugeot 908 HDi FAP *3:20.325 3:20.961 + 0.614
4 – LMP1 #4 Team Oreca Matmut Peugeot 908 HDi FAP *3:21.129 3:23.141 + 1.481
5 – LMP1 #9 Audi Sport North America Audi R15 TDI Plus 3:23.578 *3:21.981 + 2.27
6 – LMP1 #7 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R15 TDI Plus 3:24.688 *3:22.176 + 2.465
7 – LMP1 #8 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R15 TDI Plus 3:24.430 *3:23.605 + 3.894
8 – LMP1 #007 Aston Martin Racing Lola-Aston Martin, B09/60 *3:26.680 3:29.369 + 6.969
9 – LMP1 #009 Aston Martin Racing Lola-Aston Martin, B09/61 *3:26.747 3:28.869 + 7.036
10 – LMP1 #6 AIM Team Oreca Matmut Oreca 01 – AIM 3:30.056 *3:29.506 + 9.795
Image Credit: Peugeot Press © Peugeot Automotive

As reigning winners of Le Mans, Peugeot were looking to repeat their victory in the previous year and were strong favourites ahead of the race.

However, the drama that was going to unfold reminded spectators that Le Mans has the power to decide its winners.

The 2010 regulations set out by ACO had imposed restrictions on the diesel cars by reducing the air restrictor size and limiting the output of turbo-boost pressure.

In 2010, the R15 TDI car featured a number of updates such as turbo-chargers utilising VTG (Variable Turbine Geometry) which meant the car was more competent and efficient at delivering performance.

Audi Sport were keen to unleash the potential of the 5.5 V10 powertrain in the revised Audi R15 (Plus) since their loss to the Peugeot 908s back in 2009.

Audi’s engineering team led by Ulrich Baretzky were able to achieve engine power and performance that was comparable if not substantially better than the 2009 powertrain.

Image No: A165715, 24h Le Mans 2010
Image Credit: Audi Media Center © AUDI AG

In fact, all the LMP1 diesel cars ran quicker times than the previous year as they exceeded the target lap time of 3:30 with the #3 Peugeot leading qualifying at over 10 seconds faster.

Image Credit: Peugeot Press © Peugeot Automotive

As the race kicked off, the drama was quick to begin when the leading #3 Peugeot retired just two hours into the race with a suspension failure, resulting in a broken chassis tub in the hands of Pedro Lamy.

Furthermore, this meant that Sébastien Bourdais (who had set the lap to qualify the car in pole position) did not get the chance to drive the car.

At around 7am in the race, the #2 Peugeot retired with engine problems and an exploding turbocharger whilst leading the race.

With the two manufacturer Peugeot cars gone, remaining #1 Peugeot was the ultimate chance for the manufacturer to defend its title.

The #1 Peugeot was running P6 in class/overall, following a dash to the pits to replace its alternator; this cost the car to drop 3 laps down.

In the closing hour, the #1 Peugeot ran at a swift qualifying pace whilst in pursuit to chase the Audis and eventually overtook the #8 Audi for second position and was on the pace of catching the leading #9 Audi.

Image No: A173207
Image Credit: Audi Media Center © Ferdi Kräling Motorsport-Bild GmbH

Soon enough, that pace was not to last as the #1 Peugeot also suffered an engine failure that was identical to its sister car.

According to Peugeot, the #3 damage was the suspension mounting point separating from the carbon fibre tub, thus causing an undetected structural problem that forced the #3 to retire.

The #2 and #1 car, as well as the #4 (Peugeot 908 HDi) Oreca that suffered the same engine failure as the other two at just over an hour left in the race, was caused by the increased stress of the engines (specifically the connecting rod), writing off any chance for a Peugeot to win.

It was also said that the engine failures were partially caused by the need to keep up with the Audi’s pace.

The race itself had ideal dry weather conditions, so no rain would attempt slow the pace of the LMP1s, which was also a factor that put stress on the Peugeot engines.

These ideal conditions was a definitive factor that lead to the all-time distance record to be broken (that the #9 winning Audi achieved).

As Peugeot’s despair brought tears, Audi Sport sought revenge as they claimed their 9th Le Mans victory.

Image Credit: Audi Media Center © Ferdi Kräling Motorsport-Bild GmbH

A ninth victory by Audi had equalled Ferrari in the roll of honour of the endurance classic which has been held since 1923.

For the Reinhold Joest squad, it was their eleventh victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours and the seventh with Audi.

In all of its twelve Le Mans commitments so far, Audi had achieved a podium result in each of them.

For the first time, an automobile manufacturer had managed to claim a one-two-three win with diesel-powered cars at Le Mans; for the fifth consecutive time a diesel-powered vehicle won at Le Mans.

With an average speed of 225.2 km/h, the 78th edition was the fastest in the history of the race.

The victorious #9 Audi R15 TDI covered a total distance of 5,420.7 km over 397 laps at Circuit de la Sarthe.

It broke the record set in 1971 by Dr. Helmut Marko and Gijs van Lennep in the Porsche 917 (5,335.3 km); the Le Mans circuit had no chicanes on the Mulsanne Straight during that era.

The winning #9 car completed the entire distance with only eleven sets of Michelin tires (including the additional set required due to a slow puncture shortly before the end of the race).

In fact, an average of 491.9 km were driven on a single set of tires; in 2009 the tires were forced to be changed at around every 330 km – an indication for the improved efficiency of the 2010 Audi R15 ‘Plus.’

In the following years, Audi were successful enough to grasp four more Le Mans wins in a further six Le Mans 24H attempts.