Woman's touch won Audi Le Mans

2011-06-14 09:49
LADY OF LE MANS: Under unimaginable pressure, this lady made all the right technical decisions to deliver Audi its tenth win at the world’s toughest endurance race.

LADY OF LE MANS: Under unimaginable pressure, this lady made all the right technical decisions to deliver Audi its tenth win at the world’s toughest endurance race.

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Audi’s 2011 Le Mans 24 Hours victory - its 10th - was not an easy one.

After two crashes reduced the three-car team to fielding a single R18 TDI for most of the race, strategy was crucial to ensure Audi triumphed, despite huge pressure from chief rival Peugeot.

At Le Mans race strategy, considering the number of pit stops required with the distance involved (nearly 5000km), is a crucial part of gaining a victory or inheriting defeat. For the 2011 event, Audi had one of the best in the business planning its race by the numbers.

A woman, Britain’s Leena Gade.

CLEVER LADY

When Andre Lotterer steered his No.1 Audi R18 TDI to victory (amazingly, a mere 13.854sec ahead of a chasing Peugeot, after 24 hours of racing) Gade became the first female race engineer to win the world-famous Le Mans 24 Hours race.

Gade (35) from South Harrow, near London, is a race engineer for the factory Audi Sport team and "her" car is a 3.7-litre turbodiesel V6 Audi R18 TDI. Driven in stints by Benoît Treluyer (France), Marcel Fässler (Switzerland) and André Lotterer (Germany), it won the 79th running of the legendary Le Mans, generally considered the world’s most challenging circuit motorsport event.

Leena masterminded Audi’s 10th Le Mans win since 1999 from the pit wall throughout the race. "I still can’t believe what’s happened and I don’t think it will sink in for a few weeks," remarked the former University of Manchester student.

"Our Audi R18 TDI started from pole (first on the grid), set the fastest race lap and did not have any major problems in what was only this car’s second race. We’d prepared properly, which is what Audi and the Joest team do. We had to race hard throughout the entire 24 hours. It was quite amazing."

Gade’s ability to absorb huge volumes of data and make informed decisions was critical to delivering Audi its 10th win. "I’m responsible for the final decisions on the race car. If a part on the car moves, changes temperature or changes pressure, I’m logging it. A snapshot of our computer screens could show hundreds of channels at one time.

"The collected information is then used by me to give instructions over a radio to the driver to help him maintain tyres or maximise the engine performance for example.

RUNNING AHEAD: Benoit Treluyer steers his Audi R19 TD1 No.2 ahead of Timo Bernhard and Leena Gade's Audi R18 TDI No.1 during the 79th edition of Le Mans 24 hours endurance race. Image: AFP

"In addition to looking after all functions of the car, we have to manage the tyre allocation, fuel stops, driver time in the car while keeping an eye on the weather. This information is used to make strategy decisions on when to pit for fuel and which variant of tyre to use.

"I’m the main contact to the driver. The driver-engineer psychology has to be strong and trust plays a vital part in gaining performance."

"A driver performs better knowing his or her engineer is in control of the crew, the car and race which means they can focus on their driving. One miscalculation or decision that is waivered over can be the difference between winning or losing the race. And at Le Mans, that just isn't an option."

Gade's achievement illustrates that impeccable engineering credentials and a passion for the job are required credentials for success in motorsport management, not gender...

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