Webber bids for Porsche glory 11 | 06 | 2015

    TWELVE MONTHS AFTER Mark Webber suffered the heartache of seeing a debut Le Mans 24-Hours victory evaporate after his Porsche led into the final 110 minutes before grinding to a cruel halt, the Aussie is back. And he's targeting the top step of the podium.

    Webber, of course, is no stranger to the top step of the podium, albeit in Formula One, where he won nine grands prix during his 215 starts with Minardi, Jaguar, Williams and Red Bull.

    But this weekend the 35-year-old from Queensland leads the three-car Porsche assault on the world's most demanding 24-hours race.

    Piloting the No17 (pictured) 2.0-litre V6 turbo petrol-hybrid 919 Porsche — which powers the rear wheels, with the fronts driven by electric motors — and partnered Kiwi Brendon Hartley, and German Timo Bernard, Webber is a man on a mission.

    His objective? To end Audi's domination of the event it has won on 13 of the last 15 runnings, including the last five in a row.

    But his approach, though incredibly driven and focused, is masked by an intense calmness as we chat just hours before qualifying.

    "People keep asking me, 'is Audi your biggest threat this weekend'," he explained. "The simple answer's no. The biggest challenge is the race. Simple as that.

    Related: Audi ready for Le Mans battle

    "It's 24 Hours of Le Mans. I don't come to this race thinking about Audi. I've come here thinking of no time in the garage, fuel and tyres, and winning for Porsche. It's the actual race which is the main problem, not the opposition.

    "Stay out of the garage for the whole 24 hours, and you have a real, genuine chance of winning Le Mans."

    Porsche has an iconic history at the famous 8.45-mile circuit which spears its way through the lazy French countryside, having won on a record 16 occasions. Ironically, the last of those came in 1998, in a car piloted by Scot Allan McNish, and French duo Laurent Aiello and Stephane Ortelli.

    So far, Webber's Le Mans experience has been only painful. In addition to last year's disappointment, he was denied race experience in his two years with Mercedes in 1998 and '99.

    Arriving as a 21-year-old, his car qualified on pole, but he didn't get to race after it was forced to retire with a steering pump failure.

    Twelve months later, he returned — partnering Kirkcaldy racer Peter Dumbreck — but it was his Mercedes which first, infamously, took off as it sped down the Mulsanne Straight. After Dumbreck's car did the same, landing in trees, Mercedes withdrew the cars on safety grounds.

    "Le Mans is the toughest of the tough, and you need to be ready for the challenge," Webber continued. "Nobody knows how the 24 hours will unfold: you could lead the race from the start and be forced out with technical issues in the final minutes: that's the cruel reality of Le Mans. It's a long, long tough day.

    "Even teams like Audi, with all their wins, they don't stand on the line on Saturday afternoon and think 'we can definitely win the race'. It's a tough race to win: but we're here to win."

    Related: Ford confirms Le Mans return

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    Jim McGill


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