In so many ways, 2009 is all about the numbers and not just those on balance sheets. This is Audi’s tenth straight year at Le Mans. After that first trial year with the R8R, the now-legendary R8 and R10 have contributed to a full eight wins in nine consecutive starts, only losing once during that time to sister brand Bentley which could trace is chassis and engine design back to the Audi R8 program. Eight wins in nine years is certainly a bragging right. But nine wins in ten years sounds better.
2009 is also a special year for Ferrari. It’s been 60 years since the brand’s first win here – an accomplishment they’d achieve a total of nine times (1949, 1954, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965). Luca di Montezemolo, Ferrari and Fiat Group President, will give the honorary starting signal on Saturday afternoon. And, while no less than ten Ferrari F430 GTs will chase the Audi R15s and R10s across the starting line, they have no practical chance of contesting the overall win with Ingolstadt.
Should Audi win this year, it will tie Ferrari for all-out wins here in Le Mans, leaving them second only to Porsche with its almost insurmountable 16 wins (1970, 1971, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998).
Behind Audi and Ferrari, the next closest brands are epic badges in their own right: Jaguar (8), Bentley (6), Alfa Romeo (4), Ford (4).
Driver records are also impressive. Tom Kristensen didn’t arrive at his nickname “Mr. Le Mans” lightly, having won here eight times (six in a row from 2000-2005 and six total with Audi). Of the eight drivers who’ve won four or more times at Le Mans, three are Audi factory pilots (Biela and Pirro have each won five times).
In the vein of anniversaries, it’s also been 50 years since Aston Martin’s first and only win here with none other than Carroll Shelby as one of the winning drivers. It’s no surprise then that Aston is coming on strong, with a full factory effort in LMP1, their eyes set on an all-out win.
The last number worth mentioning here is the first. One. Only one tire changer will be allowed to work at a time on cars as they pit, which will force teams to extend stints of tires and put more pressure on pit crews. This will make for an interesting new factor in overall pace that will affect every team on the grid in one way or another.