By Michael Oellers
The Le Mans 24-Hours have earned themselves the reputation of being one of the toughest and most demanding car races in the world - for the drivers as well as their high-performing racing cars. That was confirmed once more by this weekend’s 2012 version: collisions, take-offs and technical defects of sorts determined the course of the race and also created tension in the various racing categories. The most spectacular crash involved one of the two factory Toyotas, driven by Anthony Davidson, and a Ferrari he was about to lap. The Ferrari touched the LMP1 Toyota which took off, turned over but fortunately landed on its tires again, before crashing severely sideways into the tire stacks. Though Davidson was able to free himself from the wreck, he broke two vertebrae and had to be admitted to hospital where he is as well as could be, with no lasting damage to be expected.
Compared to such bad luck, the Rebellion Racing Lola-Toyota #12 driven by Nick, Neel Jani and Nicolas Prost fared a lot better. After an almost perfect racing performance without encountering any major technical problems, let alone colliding with others, the team managed to race into a sensational fourth place overall. As at Spa earlier, that meant victory in the category of privateer racing teams and also of that of petrol-powered cars. Positions 1 to 3 of course went to three of the four factory Audis, as after the dropping out of the 2 factory Toyotas - the second departed with engine trouble - they faced no competition any longer. They could only manage to beat one another. After two takeoffs and extended pit stops following them the #3 Audi ‘only’ managed to get into fifth position. While Alan McNish steering the #2 Audi and lying in second place had severe contact with a crash barrier, but due to an unbelievable performance of the Audi pit crew -and an SC phase following the impact - the car did not lose much ground and was able to hold on to second place right up to the finish.
Nick’s Rebellion Toyota #12 ended eleven laps behind the leaders in the Audi #1 with Fässler, Lotterer, and Treluyer at the wheel. Runners-up were the team of Audi #2 with 1 lap behind the winners, while the #4 Audi came in third, with 3 laps lagging behind. Fifth rank went to the #3 Audi trailing Nick’s Rebellion by 1 lap, whereas the JRM Honda in sixth position already trailed Nick’s team by 10 laps. The sister car to Nick’s Rebellion, the Rebellion #13, made the finish in 11th position after suffering from clutch problems.
This result was cheered by Nick and the entire Rebellion crew. “The whole thing went off perfectly”, he commented shortly after the race and continued, “It was impossible to get more out of it. To leave just one Audi behind is a great achievement already. Sure, the Audi we beat had big problems, but in this kind of race that’s just the point. We managed to fight through, thank you. We had nothing unplanned to cope with and, like at Spa-Francorchamps, we once more piloted the best petrol-driven car. Fourth place is just sensational.” Only a few minor problems occurred: “Towards the finish we had clutch problems. Our sister car had to have its clutch changed, while we managed to scrape through. Our accelerator pedal went a bit soft, but otherwise there was very little wrong with our car.”
Overall Nick completed three stints, all of them lasting more than two hours. His lap times were surprisingly fast for a newcomer. Though Neel Jani managed the fastest lap within the team, Nick was not much slower than the experienced Swiss driver and clearly left the other members of the team behind. During his first stint he outraced the experienced long-distance driver Belicchi in the sister Rebellion by two seconds/lap on average - in a lap total of about 3:30 min this is a world of difference.
Finally Nick ventured a brief look into the future: “I would like to return here again. My first dream has come true with finishing the race and coming in fourth, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to come back.”
All results and much statistical evidence covering the Le Mans race you can get from the promoter’s webpage.