Audi oil-burner wins Le Mans
I wasn't too far off in my predictions for the 2006 Le Mans 24 Hours. One of the Audis and one of the Pescarolos hit problems, but the ones that didn't were spaced first and second pretty much the distance you'd expect based on the greater fuel efficiency of the Audi. So the number 8 Audi R10 TDi of Biela, Pirro and Werner goes down in history as the first diesel-powered car to win the ultimate endurance racing title. With the problems suffered by the number 7 Audi, the number 17 Pescarolo Judd was able to take second place overall. I wonder though, considering they were four laps down from the lead and could have been many more if the Audi hadn't controlled the pace later on in the race, how do they feel about coming back for another attempt in 2007, knowing that not only will Peugeot be there with a factory diesel car, but there will also likely be customer Audi R10s to deal with as well. Pescarolo cannot realistically expect to win without diesel power now and their withdrawal from the LMP1 could mean it is contested by just Audi and Peugeot for the next few years.
All the interesting prototype action could occur in LMP2 class where it is not currently contested by works cars. Unfortunately that class could be hit if Porsche decide to enter their Spyder next year. LMP2 was won this year by what is now a very aged and highly modified Lola-MG EXP chassis with 4 cylinder turbo AER engine. That was an awesomely fast car when it was introduced many years ago now, challenging the Audi R8 for outright pace on many test days, if not the actual Le Mans final qualifying session and beating it in ALMS races on slower courses. Now with the modifications to bring it to the LMP2 rule set, including extra weight compared to the old LMP675 class, it's nowhere near as fast as an LMP1 car and was beaten even by the top LMGT1 cars this year. Also, the engine rules for LMP2 are more relaxed than they were for the old LMP675 class, so new cars like the Porsche Spyder have an advantage there being able to run a twin-turbo V6 instead of the old single-turbo straight 4.
One interesting bit of news, curiously released just one day before the start of the race, was that LMP1 cars will be restricted to coupés only from 2010. The reason given was the same as for many of the rules introduced in the current LMP1/2 rulebook - they want the cars to look more like road cars because that is supposedly what the fans want to see. I can't speak for all fans of course, but roadster prototypes are the most attractive of sportscars to me. On the other hand, I have read opinions that range all the way to wanting to get rid of prototypes altogether because they have nothing to do with the roadcars that sportscar racing is supposed to be about. There ought to be some middle ground though and I thought allowing both roadsters and coupés was a sound policy - Bently showed that you could win with a closed-top car in 2003 - it's just a co-incidence that all the current enterants are roadsters.
I don't really agree that any rule changes should have been made on the basis of what cars look like. Some people have described the old LMP900 prototypes as "Formula 1 cars with mudguards" and that is probably what spurred the ACO into action. They have stopped the cars having front-fenders that are adrift from the rest of the bodywork by introducing a rule that bodywork visible from the side must be within a certain distance of the side of the car. Thus a lot of pre-LMP1/2 cars have these extra "shadow-plates" aft of the front wheels that serve no structural or even aerodynamic purpose, they're just there to place a piece of bodywork close to the edge of the car. They also introduced a rule that the pseudo-passenger (there was never any suggestion that the car should actually be able to seat a passenger) should have the same roll-hoop protection as the driver. It was seeing cars with single roll-hoops that upset a lot of sportscar purists.
What gets me though is that even with these changes, the cars don't look that much different. To my mind, if they really wanted to emphasise that sportscar racing is for cars that seat two, then they should have enforced a wider cockpit and made sure the driver was situated entirely to one side of the car's centreline. I mean, theese cars are two metres wide and yet the driver safety-cell is still a little island in the middle of a sea of low-level bodywork. There should be plenty of space for a real passenger seat, even if it isn't fitted. If the ACO enforce that the cars are coupés without changing the rules of the size of the passenger compartment then the cars aren't going to look any more like road-cars than the Bentley Speed 8 did, and that was one weird looking car. Ultimately, if they want the cars to look like road cars, they should ban prototypes altogether and have LMGT1 as the top class. These cars (formerly in the GTS class) are almost as purpose-made as a prototype, but they do have to look like the production car they are based on as well as sharing some components. Much as I love the prototypes, that seems to be more in keeping with what endurance racing is about. Either way, I hate the half-hearted measure that would let teams enter a prototype but tell them it has to have some arbitrary feature that doesn't really make any difference to how much like a road-car it looks.