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Audi has claimed another resounding triumph at the 24 Hours of Le Mans as Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler repeated their 2011 triumph in the 80th running of sports car racing's greatest event.
The trio led a 1-2 sweep for the new e-tron and topped an all-Audi podium. It was a truly historic victory, as the German manufacturer became the first in history to win the French race using energy-harvesting technology and four-wheel drive.
But while that result might have been widely predicted, given the rival Toyota TS030's lack of preparation mileage and Audi's enthusiasm for proving the effectiveness of its e-tron concept, the winners certainly did not have it easy. Toyota exceeded expectations with its pace and Audi allowed its drivers to push other to the limit in a battle from which none of the combatants could get through totally unscathed. None suffered as big an accident as Toyota man Anthony Davidson, though, with the Briton sustaining two fractured vertebrae in a frightening clash with a GT car.
The No. 1 Audi was the only one of the team's four cars not to run into moderate trouble in the opening hours, as both ultras needed precautionary garage visits for checks, and the sister No. 2 e-tron had to pit to remove a large amount of rubber build-up that was interfering with its suspension.
That allowed the impressively quick Toyotas to take the fight to the No. 1 Audi, and near the end of hour five Toyota's Nicolas Lapierre was going wheel-to-wheel with Audi's race leader Treluyer in a spectacular side-by-side dice from which the TS030 emerged on top.
But just as it did so, the TV cameras cut to the sight of the wreckage of the sister No. 8 TS030, which had flipped through the air and slammed into the barriers after contact between Davidson and AF Corse Ferrari GTE Am driver Piergiuseppe Perazzini on the approach to Mulsanne corner. A long safety car period followed while Davidson was extricated and the crash barriers rebuilt following violent assaults from both the Toyota and Ferrari.
Toyota lost the lead in the pit stop during this caution, and then saw its starring run all but ended at the restart when Kazuki Nakajima clashed with the Nissan DeltaWing, ending the experimental car's promising race and forcing the Toyota into its garage for extensive bodywork and floor repairs. An engine failure then stopped the car just before half-distance.
There was still an Audi e-tron internecine squabble to keep the race alive up front, though. The No. 2 car got the break it needed when the hitherto flawless No. 1 was spun into the Porsche Curves barriers by Fassler shortly before dawn. The damage was repaired during scheduled stops, but it brought the No. 1 back into range - and when Fassler had an incident with the No. 74 Corvette and mangled the rear bodywork again on Sunday morning, the race was wide open again.
In the end, though, it was an accident for the No. 2 that decided the race, as Allan McNish spun into the Porsche Curves barriers just over two hours from the finish when trying to pass a GTE Ferrari.
Typically rapid Audi repairs meant he, Tom Kristensen and Dindo Capello (in his Le Mans swansong) kept their second place, but there would be no more challenges to Lotterer, the unwell Treluyer and Fassler.
The best of the Ultras finished third with Oliver Jarvis, Marco Bonanomi and Mike Rockenfeller, three laps down on the winner. There was little to choose between the e-trons and ultras in terms of headline pace, but the e-trons had a smoother run – particularly compared to the No. 3 Audi, which was placed in the barriers by both Romain Dumas and Marc Gene in near-identical incidents on Saturday evening and Sunday morning respectively.
Those crashes left the Audi back in fifth, and opened the door for the relentless No. 12 Rebellion Lola-Toyota of Nick Heidfeld, Neel Jani and Nicolas Prost to claim fourth.
Rebellion had a great shot at getting both its cars in the top six, had the No. 13 not required a clutch change a few hours from the finish.
JRM completed the top six with its HPD, as Peter Dumbreck, Karun Chandhok and David Brabham overcame the team's tough start to LMP1 life with an impressive race performance.
Strakka, the top independent team from qualifying, charged hard to try and make up for a pre-race oil leak that left it starting six laps down, and nearly caught JRM before a puncture and then engine issues halted it.
• Click here to check out a collection of atmospheric images from and around Le Mans by RACER contributor Melissa Eickhoff, "Motorsports Misfit and Editor-at-Play."
• Turn to the next page for recaps of other classes and official results.