Leena Gade makes history at Le Man


Britain’s Leena Gade became the first female race engineer to win the world famous Le Mans 24 Hours which earned Audi a 10th victory in the French sportscar endurance classic.

Gade, aged 35, from South Harrow near London, is a No.1 race engineer for the “factory” Audi Sport team. “Her” car, a diesel-engined Audi R18 TDI, driven by Benoît Treluyer (F), Marcel Fässler (CH) and André Lotterer (D) won the 79th running of the legendary race last weekend (11-12 June).

Leena “masterminded” the German prestige car manufacturer’s 10th win since 1999 from the pit-wall throughout the race. Audi raced its latest single turbo diesel V6 Coupé featuring the company’s ultra-lightweight technology at Le Mans – a race regarded by many as the world’s toughest motor 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-position, 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.”

Audi entered three turbo diesel-engined R18 TDI sportscars at Le Mans. This year’s winning Audi clocked up over 3,000-miles having made pit-stops for only fuel, tyres and driver changes. Britain’s former double Le Mans winner Allan McNish and Mike Rockenfeller (D) sustained no injuries in extremely severe accidents in the first third of the race.

Dumfries-born McNish had taken the lead shortly before the end of the first hour when a GT car hit his left rear wheel in the "La Chappelle” section. The R18 TDI spun off the track, hitting the armco barrier in a heavy impact and rolled over. The Audi R18 TDI’s one-piece carbon fibre monocoque withstood the crash. McNish was able to climb out of the wreckage uninjured and returned to the race track after a precautionary medical check at the hospital.

Gade continued: “I’m responsible for the final decisions on the racecar. 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.

“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,