News: Fancy Owning The 2000 Le Mans Polesitter?

Fancy Owning The 2000 Le Mans Polesitter?

By James Gent
April 16, 2020

Sure, there were circumstances surrounding the first Le Mans of the 21st century – BMW and Toyota had both buggered off to Formula 1, while Mercedes’ high-flying incidents with its hyper-aerodynamic CLR quickly led to its sports car campaign being parked – but Audi’s first win at the hallowed endurance event, on only its second attempt remember, was no less dominant.

The German brand’s then-new R8 prototype monopolised the podium, was easily the highest LM900-class runner through La Sarthe’s formidable speed traps at a mind-melting 337kph, and led all bar three of the 368 laps completed that year.

Not commanding enough? Bear in mind that the ‘slowest’ of Audi’s contingent, the #7 of Christian Abt, Michele Alboreto and three-time winner Rinaldo Capello, still finished 3rd, three laps back from the winner, despite a precautionary stop to replace the R8’s entire rear end (suspension, gearbox, bodykit, the works). The highest non-Audi runner meanwhile, Pescarolo Sport’s #16 Courage C52, finished 21 laps, or around 283km, further back than even that.

It was an utterly dominant performance, and the start of several epochal runs, including Audi’s first of 13 wins (to-date), the first of a record five for the R8 prototype, the second of Tom Kristensen’s record-breaking NINE wins at Le Mans, and the first of a further record six in succession for the great Dane.

Now, before you get too excited, no, the car you see in the above images – chassis 405 – is not that year’s Le Mans winner, falling as it did just one lap adrift of the sister #8 entry of Audi contemporaries Kristensen, and future five-time winners Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro after a flawless race for the latter. 405 did, however, set pole position for the 2000 event (3m 36.124s) and the race’s fastest lap (3m 37.359s), both with future three-time event winner and 2013 World Endurance Champion Allan McNish at the wheel, who partnered with ’98 event winners Laurent Aïello and Stéphane Ortelli for the race proper.

The fifth of six Audi R8 LMP900s built for the 2000 season, chassis 405 was first rolled out by Team Joest for the Le Mans test in April, at which it recorded the session’s fastest lap. Following the car’s 24-hour bow in July, was thereafter handed over to Audi Sport North America to compete in that year’s American Le Mans Series. Cue another dominant run for Audi, which won nine of that year’s 12 races, 405 – driven by Biela and Pirro – claiming two of them in Texas and Las Vegas.

Among its other notable podiums that year was 3rd at the Nürburgring 1000km and, ironically, 2nd at that year’s Petit Le Mans at Road America, chassis 405 once again falling a few laps from victory even with Biela and Pirro now reunited with Tom Kristensen.

An admittedly solid season with its new owner, Champion Racing, in 2001 delivered 3rd place finishes at Sebring and Petit Le Mans once again – with 1988 outright Le Mans winner Andy Wallace partnering Dorsey Schroeder and Ralf Kelleners, and three-time Formula 1 Grand Prix winner Johnny Herbert on those respective occasions – Las Vegas 2000 would be chassis 405’s last race win before being sold to a private collector.

Now up for sale with Classic Trader in the UK, the left-hand drive chassis 405 has since been restored to its full 2000 specifications, including Dallara bodywork, six-speed manual transmission, and the 3.6-litre twin-turbo V8, capable of sending up to 620hp to all four wheels.

Price? More than Petrolicious’ modest piggy bank will stretch, we can assure you. This is a piece of Le Mans history we’re talking about, after all.

*Images courtesy of Fiskens and Audi Sport. You might also like to read about the afternoon Petrolicious spent with the Audi R8 at the 2018 Silverstone Classic, and see more in-depth images from Will Broadhead, HERE.

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Mark Bowley
Mark Bowley
4 years ago

Thanks James that’s much appreciated.

Mark Bowley
Mark Bowley
4 years ago

I was lucky to have been there and snapped this. Bloody hell that was a hot day. Can’t imagine that all three Audi’s would have finished if they’d been pushed, but any opposition melted away faster than an ice cream in the sunshine.

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