Not the blog for Le Mans coverage, but I'll try...
With Le Mans rapidly approaching (qualifying was today, well yesterday as I write this), it occured to me that I probably promised some sportscar coverage on this blog when I started it. Apart from a single post about the Audi R10 back in February, I haven't posted any sportscar news. So I'll belatedly mention that Audi's R10 won the Sebring 12hour race which is usually regarded as a representitive test for Le Mans - not that the tracks are similar in any way, but Sebring puts so much stress on the car, if you're going to have reliability problems, you're going to have them there.
There have been a lot of stories in the run up to this year's Le Mans about the Pescarolo LMP1 cars being faster than the factory Audi. I know how much the French motorsport fraternity would love to see Henri Pescarolo's team win the ultimate sportscar prize, but I don't see it happening. In an article on the BBC Sport website, Allan McNish talks up the chances of Audi's competitors saying "I believe the Pescarolo is two seconds quicker than it was last year, and that was five seconds faster than the R8." Yes, but last year the R8 was heavily penalised by the ACO for not complying with current LMP regulations. They had to run a big plank, smaller fuel cells, smaller wing, smaller engine restrictors. And yet they still won because they were more reliable. The R10 is built fully to LMP1 specifications which means it will be fast - maybe not quite as fast as the Pescarolo on a hot lap, but fast enough bearing in mind their fuel efficiency advantage. The R8 won for many years because in all but it's first year at Le Mans it had a one lap per stint advantage in fuel consumption due to it's direct injection engine. Now the R10 has a diesel engine which should be more efficient still, while the Pescarolo is burning gasoline like it's going out of fashion in its Judd engine.
In my opinion the only chance of a non-Audi win this year is if the Audis both retire, or at least spend a long time in the pits. Trouble is, if we know anything about Le Mans, it's the non-Audi cars that are likely to have length stays in the pits, or catch fire out of track, or something else awful happen to them. There is one advantage the R8 had in it's many years that the R10 won't have - the quick-swap rear end. Although it's long been the rules that the engine couldn't be replaced during the race, the gearbox could. That allowed Audi to design the R8 so that the gearbox and rear suspention could be replaced as one unit in an operation that took less than half an hour. This was used to effect quick repairs, not only from failed transmissions, but also major suspension damage. The rules have since been changed so that only gearbox internals can be replaced. Audi will therefore be subject to the same multi-hour garage spells as everyone else if they crash heavily or lose several gears this year.
If they want a French win at Le Mans more realistically they'd be better off hoping Peugot don't balls up their diesel Le Mans prototype for 2007 the way they did with their Formula 1 project. Admittedly they have a far better record in sportscars and as much experience as any company of building diesel engines for road cars. It remails to be seen if that will carry over to prototype endurance racing, but they've picked an almost identical strategy to Audi (a 5.5L V12 twin-turbo diesel powered LMP1 car). By the time the Peugot entry debuts in 2007, Audi will have a years experience and by the time Peugot expect to win - 2008 - Audi will have had two cracks at Le Mans. There will also likely be at least one customer Audi team. So it isn't going to be easy by any means, but there's still more chance of that than there is of a petrol V10 powered car winning this year or any year after - the rules just offer the diesels to big an advantage.