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Le Mans glory for Audi and McNish

Allan McNish (left), Rinaldo Capello and Tom Kristensen celebrate on the Le Mans podium
The winning drivers celebrate after Audi's eighth win in nine years

Scotland's Allan McNish led Audi to their fifth straight victory in the Le Mans 24 Hour sportscar race on Sunday.

McNish combined with Rinaldo Capello of Italy and Denmark's Tom Kristensen, who claimed a record eighth victory.

Peugeot had secured the top three places on Saturday's starting grid, but wet racing conditions handed the advantage to the Audi No.2 team.

Jacques Villeneuve, who was bidding to win motor racing's fabled Triple Crown, came second in the Peugeot No.7.

Villeneuve, Marc Gene and Nicolas Minassian also completed 381 laps but finished four minutes 31.094 seconds behind, with the Peugeot No.9 of Franck Montagny, Christian Klien and Ricardo Zonta two laps off the pace.

Villeneuve won the Indianapolis 500 in 1995 and the Formula One world championship in 1997, but could only hold the lead for a few laps to finish second.

Rinaldo Capello's Audi leads Jacques Villeneuve's Peugeot on a wet track during the Le Mans 24 Hours
Wet weather allowed the Audis back on terms with the faster Peugeots
Peugeot got off to a flying start with its three cars in the lead during the first two hours.

But two of its cars faced electronic problems in the third hour: the Peugeot No.8 had to stop for 20 minutes in the pits because of a gearbox problem while the Peugeot No.9's headlights gave out.

Capello took the lead at the start of the fourth hour while Minassian's Peugeot No.7 was refuelling, but Minassian overtook the Audi No.2 on the inside in the fifth hour on lap 71 to recapture the top spot.

The Peugeot No.9 was leading when the rain started in the 14th hour, offering an opportunity for the Audi cars to make up for their relative lack of speed in dry conditions.

And Kristensen overtook Villeneuve in the 15th hour on lap 234 when the Peugeot No.7 was again refuelling in the pits.

By the morning, the Audi's advantage in the wet had left Kristensen, Capello and McNish with a three-minute lead, which Villeneuve, Gene and Minassian tried to chip away for the rest of the race.

But the experience and consistency of the veteran Audi drivers ensured they always kept at arm's length.

The Audi No.2 survived a scare in the 22nd hour after the diesel-powered car collided with a Zytek 07S, but carried on with no apparent damage.

Then Kristensen had to fend off a desperate last-hour charge by Minassian, who was put on dry-weather tyres despite the fact that it was raining hard on parts of the track.

Periodically, Minassian took huge chunks out of the Audi's lead, but Kristensen kept his cool and the Audi won by more than four minutes.

"I'm very, very pleased and extremely proud," McNish said. "We did it with our backs against the wall, but we did it."

"Our car is difficult," Villeneuve said. "You get the power down coming out of corners and it snaps around, which makes it harder to overtake the slower cars."

Le Mans 24 Hour results:

1. Tom Kristensen (Den)/Rinaldo Capello (Ita)/Allan McNish (GB) Audi No. 2 381 laps

2. Jacques Villeneuve (Can)/Marc Gene (Spa)/Nicolas Minassian (Fra) Peugeot No. 7, 381 laps, four minutes 31.094 seconds behind

3. Franck Montagny (Fra)/Christian Klien (Aut)/Ricardo Zonta (Brz) Peugeot No. 9, 379 laps
4. Lucas Luhr (Ger)/Mike Rockenfeller (Ger)/Alexandre Premat (Fra) Audi No. 3, 374 laps
5. Pedro Lamy (Por)/Stephane Sarrazin (Fra)/Alexander Wurz (Aut) Peugeot No. 8, 368 laps
6. Frank Biela (Ger)/Marco Werner (Ger)/Emanuele Pirro (Ita) Audi No 1, 367 laps
7. Harold Primat (Swi)/Christophe Tinseau (Fra)/Benoit Treluyer (Fra) Pescarolo-Judd 362 laps
8. Soheil Ayari, (Fra)/Loic Duval (Fra)/Laurent Groppi (Fra) Courage Oreca-Judd 357 laps
9. Tomas Enge (Cze)/Jan Charouz (Cze)/Stefan Mucke (Ger) Lola-Aston Martin 354 laps
10. Peter Van Merksteijn (Ned)/Jos Verstappen (Ned)/Jeroen Bleekemolen (Ned) Porsche RS Spyder 354 laps.

see also
Le Mans ready for classic battle
10 Jun 08 |  Motorsport

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