13th - 14th June
Following a reconstruction of the Bugatti Circuit, the Le Mans circuit was changed between the Dunlop Bridge and Esses, with the straight now becoming a set of fast sweeping turns. This layout allowed for a better transition from the Le Mans circuit to the Bugatti circuit. This layout change would also require the track's infamous carnival to be relocated because the area it had once occupied became runoff. The carnival was relocated to the Porsche curves.
Mixed reactions. The famous Dunlop-downhill is now different. JJ Lehto was quite laconic about it: ”One overtaking place less.” Not that this was a track with too few overtaking places, but simply because there is so much to overtake. From spectators’ point of view the new part is beautiful and very open air, but the old view up to Dunlop bridge was like a friend - always there. Now she is gone.
Pre Race :
The Audi. It seems they are aiming to perfection in every possible way. Not just the racing or technology, but everything involved: hospitality, press and marketing services, what ever. The rear wing endplate solution really did not fit into this picture. It was a tasteless way around the rules in my opinion. The endplate effect is nothing new to any professional aerodynamicist. Sometimes it is difficult to understand the flex in the polishing of the regs.
The green Audi, oops, sorry, the Bentley was expected to be slightly slower, yet with similar reliability to the open racers of the VAG-company - and it was.
I’d say the fastest looking car through the corners of Dunlop-chicane and also Indy was the almost silent MG. It looks really nimble: quick turn in, loads of speed into the apex and early throttle. That none of these cars made to the finish is not a surprise, but still, a disappointment - even if the car is not exactly what the LM675-class is about. It is still a great racing car.
Another car that caught my eye favourably was the Prodrive Ferrari. Is it just the bright red or what but it really looks like it is born for this track. Just a pity that Prodrive was only with one car. Odds being what they are, as first timers, a DNF was always in the cards.
The Saleen certainly looked penalized - too much penalized. At no point were they a match to the Ferrari nor the Corvettes. The Vettes were like clocks, coming around again and again with the fantastic macho V8-sound. Couple of odd ones were the Spyker and the Morgan. The latter was not so slow as I expected, but to my eye it still looks like a - joke.
One other thing worth mentioning is the finishing rate of the Judd-engines. The best Judd (Oreca no. 15) was 16 laps down the winner and the best lap time was some six and half seconds slower than the ones of the top Audis. In the qualifying the Dallara was only some 2 seconds off. The average stint length (12 laps) of the Oreca really telltales, that the rev limit had been brought quite down - may be down to 500 - 530 Ps level. So the reliability was there, but the speed was obviously compromised.
The winning Audi pitted 31 times and did 375 laps i.e. 11.7 laps per stint by average. It spent 37 minutes and 38 seconds in the pits. The Bentley did 9.8 laps by average and spent almost 46 minutes in the pits. The best Oreca-Dallara spent some 49 minutes in the pits. Again, if you spent less than 45 minutes in the pits, you were well placed in the result sheet.
Certainly not the best race of Le Mans, but a good 2002 happening again.
The 2002 edition saw Audi Sport Team Joest, with drivers Frank Biela, Tom Kristensen, and Emanuele Pirro, taking their third victory not only as a team and manufacturer, but also as a driving team, marking the first time a set of three drivers won the event three years in a row.
Following MG’s return to the 24 Heures du Mans in 2001, MG returned again this year with high expectations. Having qualified 6th and 12th overall on the grid, 1st and 2nd in the LMP675 class, they performed in the race at the highest level to challenge the more powerful LMP900 favourites. From the very beginning of the race, the two MGs displayed significant pace, consistently leading their class and competing with the fastest cars on the circuit for a significant period of the race.
The first disappointment came after midnight on lap 129 when the car No. 26 (driven by Anthony Reid, Warren Hughes and Jonny Kane) retired with transmission failure, when running strongly in 4th overall. MG car No. 27 (driven by Mark Blundell, Julian Bailey and Kevin McGarrity) carried on relentlessly through the night gaining positions and by early morning having completed two thirds of the race period suffered an engine problem on lap 219 without warning. Despite all the efforts of the driver and the team the dream was over.
The Knighthawk entry
KnightHawk’s No30 MG Lola 675 LMP was retired in the eighth hour due to a spectacular fire that all but destroyed the team’s only entry.
The car’s pilot at the time Mel Hawkins walked away unhurt.
While traveling the Mulsanne straights at high speed, Hawkins was stunned to see a huge bolt of flame shoot right past him from inside the cockpit on his left side.
“I was on the straight, right between the first and second chicane, when all of a sudden a huge flame shot up the left side of the cockpit,” said the suprisingly calm Hawkins. “I quickly looked in the rear-view mirror and saw huge flames coming at me from the back of the car. They came clear over my head almost like an explosion although I didn’t feel or hear one. I never saw any smoke, or smelled any smoke at all. I was probably about a quarter-mile past the first chicane, at a speed of about 150mph and all of a sudden it was just as if the car blew up! I pulled over as quickly as I could, and by the time I did get over there were absolutely no lights on in the car any longer. It was completely dark. I got out of the car as fast as I could, and as soon as I was out, with my feet on the ground I quickly tried to set off the on-board extinguishers. I couldn’t see couldn’t find the button. At that point, I just got away from the car as fast as I could.
Sports Car Races