Le Mans 2013 will be a year of historic dimensions. The inaugural event of the endurance race was held 90 years ago and Audi is now competing for the 15th time.
The current World Endurance championship driving team of Marcel Fässler/André Lotterer/Benoît Tréluyer will enter the race in the No. 1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro. If successful, the three drivers would manage a hat-trick at La Sarthe, having won the past two years. This was last achieved by another Audi trio: In 2000, 2001 and 2002, as Frank Biela/Emanuele Pirro/Tom Kristensen remained unbeaten three times in succession.
"I look forward to Le Mans every year because it's a fantastic challenge," Fässler said. "We've got strong rivals, but we're very motivated and have got a good car in the Audi R18 e-tron quattro. We know what the entire team is capable of achieving and will go all out in order to win."
Le Mans record winner Kristensen (eight wins) expects to be in contention for a top result with his current teammates Loïc Duval and Allan McNish as well. In April, the trio won the season opener of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) at Silverstone. A year ago, Kristensen and McNish finished as the runners-up at Le Mans.
"Audi has continually improved the R18 e-tron quattro and taken care of a lot of details," Kristensen said. "The battle this year will again be very close and tough."
The driver line-up of the No. 3Audi R18 e-tron quattro is aiming for the trophy as well: Marc Gené was the overall winner at Le Mans in 2009. Oliver Jarvis was on podium at Le Mans for the first time last year and in March won the 12-hour race at Sebring in the R18 e-tron quattro.
"We're working for a whole year toward this one race, Gené said. "We're well prepared, as we've previously shown at Silverstone and Spa. I'm expecting us to be in contention for victory. I'm running at Le Mans for the seventh time and have never had as good a feeling before the race as this year."
They will be joined by Lucas di Grassi, who is experiencing his first Le Mans race and since making his WEC debut with Audi last September, has finished his three races to date on the podium.
"My first race at Le Mans will be a great experience at which I'll be learning a lot," di Grassi said. "In our team, we've got legends like Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish. It's a privilege to belong to such a squad. Finishing the race, learning and being as good as possible - these are my aims."
On the technology side, the team of Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, and Chris Reinke, Head of LMP, have rigorously prepared for the toughest race of the season as well. The Audi R18 e-tron quattro has been thoroughly revised with respect to the engine, the hybrid system, its ultra-lightweight design and in other areas. Furthermore, the diesel hybrid sports car will be running with optimized aerodynamics at Le Mans.
"This year, Le Mans will be a particularly great challenge for us," Ullrich said. "There have been various changes made to the regulations in recent months. This has put us in a position that will make it difficult for us to decide the competition in our favor based on our racing performance. But we're going to focus on our strengths as a team, which we've demonstrated on numerous occasions."
The score in the duel between FIA Endurance World Champion Audi and challenger Toyota is currently at 5-3 in favor of Audi, who set the best time on the test day on June 9.
"I believe in our competitiveness-in the battle with our team colleagues, as well as with Toyota," Jarvis said. "Anything's possible at what is arguably the world's toughest race."
Le Mans notes: The No. 2 Audi led Wednesday's two-hour qualifying session with a best lap of 3:22.349, nearly two seconds in front of the No. 3 Audi, with the No. 1 Audi ending up third. The No. 7 Toyota was fourth followed by the No. 12 Rebellion Racing car.
The No. 26 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Nissan led the LMP2 class, with Aston Martin leading both the GTE Pro and GTE Am classes. The No. 8 Toyota was among those that suffered mechanical issues and was unable to complete the qualifying session, which was held between 10 p.m. and midnight.
The final two qualifying sessions were Thursday night.
Tracy Krohn was released from the hospital after suffering a crash during the Wednesday practice session. The No. 57 Krohn Racing Ferrari and No. 41 Greaves Motorsport cars were among those damaged in practice and unable to compete in the first qualifying session.
Lotus received its seized components back late Wednesday afternoon and was able to get the No. 31 car on the track in time for practice. Both cars were able to compete in the opening qualifying session, but the No. 32 Lotus T128 was only able to make it around the 8.469-mile Circuit de la Sarthe one time. The No. 31 ended up 13th in the LMP2 class.
The German-based Lotus/Kodewa team issued a statement Wednesday that read in part, "Lotus Praga LMP2/Kodewa have instructed their lawyers to file a criminal complaint against Stéphane Chosse, Adess AG and SCE Solutions. Chosse presented fictitious and not justified invoices to the court in France. On Tuesday evening a bailiff seized parts of the Lotus Praga T128 LMP2 cars. The court in Le Mans decided (Wednesday) to give the seized parts back to the team as the allegations were reasonless. Kodewa will take further action against Stéphane Chosse, Adess AG and SCE Solutions."