The evening was organised in great style by Audi, yet was an informal affair. We were offered a brief tour of the house - which was fascinating. Although I am not a student of fine art, it was impossible not to be impressed by paintings from Canaletto and Stubbs, by 18th century tapestries from Louis XV and by the superbly well-preserved ambience of a 300-year old stately home filled with period furniture.
I was surprised, though, to learn that at Le Mans this year the Allan McNish Audi e-tron quattro will not be engineered by Howden Haynes. This will be something of a departure, since H has worked on the car of McNish, Kristensen and Capello for the last five years. This year, though he will be working on the R18 ultra of Oliver Jarvis, Mike Rockenfeller and Marco Bonanomi. The full list of assignments goes like this both for Le Mans and for Spa:
|1||R18 e-tron quattro||Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer||Leena Gade|
|2||R18 e-tron quattro||McNish/Kristensen/Capello||Dominic Zeidtler|
|3||R18 ultra||Duval/Bernhard/Dumas||Kyle Wilson-Clarke|
|4||R18 ultra||Jarvis/Rockenfeller/Bonanomi||Howden Haynes|
There doesn't seem to be anything particularly sinister or conspiratorial here - it is merely that H found himself working more on the ultra over the winter, whereas Zeidtler (an experienced race engineer from Joest) has spent more time with the hybrid. It does, however, raise an interesting question for the race in June. Since the Le Mans 24 hours is a round in the WEC, a tactical, (double) points-scoring finish might be attractive to those with World Championship aspirations. For H and his team of 'young chargers', points will not mean a thing. For H, Le Mans is and should be 'win or bust'!
As for news about Timo Bernhard's recovery, following his testing accident at Sebring, I was unable to discover anything. However, it struck me as significant that the nominated reserve driver, Marc Gené, will join Dumas and Duval at Spa. But Jarvis and Bonanomi will race at Spa as a two-driver team, as Mike Rockenfeller is occupied with the DTM at Lausitzring. Interestingly, in conversation with Haynes and Jarvis, H said that he saw it as a good thing... one less driver meant one less thing to worry about. And over six hours, the strain on the driver is not nearly so great as at Le Mans. Obviously, Jarvis and Bonanomi will benefit from the extra seat time, neither having raced an Audi prototype before. But there would be no point in putting Gené in the car at Spa unless there was at least a small chance that he would be racing at Le Mans as well, is there?
One other highlight of the evening is worth a mention: the presence of the Le Mans-winning Audi R18 TDI outside the house - I had known that it hadn't been cleaned since its victory; and there it was, shipped over from Ingolstadt especially for the occasion and still looking very scruffy. One day it will have to be scrubbed up, but not just yet.