Loic Duval, Marc Gene and Romain Dumas took advantage of the Audi R18 Ultra's superior speed over its in-house rivals to deny the e-tron hybrid version victory on its debut, as the German cars finished 1-2-3-4 in Saturday's Spa six hour race.
The second round of the World Endurance Championship was completely dominated by the four Audi machines, but the superior pace of the No. 3 Ultra car in the dry meant that Duval, Gene and Dumas scored a hard-earned but deserved win over their teammates.
The race began in wet conditions which gave the four-wheel drive e-trons a distinct advantage when the hybrid power kicked in over 75mph around the soaking sweeps of Spa and Tom Kristensen, in the No. 2 car initially led from the No. 1 car of Andre Lotterer.
The duo swapped positions on lap three and Lotterer quickly established a lead, the pair followed by the conventional ultra cars of Marco Bonanomi (No. 4) and Gene (No. 3).
The two hybrids pitted first and stayed on intermediates for their second stints, but former Peugeot driver Gene, in his first race for Audi, changed to slicks in a smart move that provided the catalyst to begin a spirited pursuit of the e-trons. This was further assisted by a right-front light problem for Kristensen's No. 2 car, forcing a regulatory nose change and costing the car 45sec, dropping it to third.
Gene closed the gap to Lotterer over the remainder of his stint before handing over to Duval who delivered a supreme performance to move ahead of leader Benoit Treluyer, now in the No. 1 car, mid-race as the ultra's superiority took hold.
Not long after Duval had taken the lead, two safety car periods, the second because of a massive shunt for the LMP2 Norma at Eau Rouge, ensured the No. 3 car had a comfortable gap to its rivals thanks in part to its fortuitous track position. After that it was a question of Dumas bringing the car home in the final two stints. The two Frenchmen now lead the drivers' championship.
Marcel Fassler brought the No. 1 car home second more than a minute behind Dumas after a late stop for tires - still an impressive result for the all-new flywheel hybrid machine.
Jarvis also stopped late on in the No. 4 car he shared with Bonanami but took third ahead of the Sebring-winning crew of Kristensen/Allan McNish/Dindo Capello which endured a catalogue of issues through the race. These included that nose change, being delayed by the safety car, a small off when the Scot was at the wheel and finally a late-race stop-and-go penalty for a pit infringement. In the end, the crew that came into the race as championship leaders was nearly three laps off the lead.
Behind the Audis, Rebellion won a spirited battle among the gasoline-fuel runners as Nicolas Prost brought the No. 12 Lola home fifth overall. Nick Heidfeld put in a strong middle stint in this car to move it ahead of Pescarolo's Dome in the mid-race at a time when the Strakka HPD was also in the hunt.
The Dome, driven by Sebastian Bourdais and Nicolas Minassian would finish 16th after problems late on, which meant the sister Rebellion car of Andrea Belicchi and Harald Primat finished sixth ahead of the Nick Leventis, Jonny Kane and Danny Watts for Strakka.
Sam Hancock and Simon Dolan took a well-deserved victory for the Nissan-powered Jota team (RIGHT) in the LMP2 class after inheriting the lead late in the race when Robbie Kerr pitted five minutes from the end to take on fuel. The ADR-Delta car had led for much of the race, having taken pole, though Jota's Zytek had always been within striking distance.
The GT race was settled in enthralling style as Richard Lietz's Felbermayr Porsche held off Gianmaria Bruni's AF Corse Ferrari by less than a second as they raced past the checkered flag.
The Porsche had established a strong lead in the wet early stages, but Bruni's late-race pursuit meant the result was in doubt right to the end.
Results - 160 laps:
Pos Cl Drivers Team/Car Time/Gap
1. P1 Dumas/Duval/Gene Audi 6h00m22.708s
2. P1 Fassler/Lotterer/Treluyer Audi (e-tron) + 46.801s
3. P1 Bonanomi/Jarvis Audi + 1 lap
4. P1 Capello/Kristensen/McNish Audi (e-tron) + 1 lap
5. P1 Prost/Jani/Heidfeld Rebellion Lola-Toyota + 4 laps
6. P1 Belicchi/Primat Rebellion Lola-Toyota + 5 laps
7. P1 Leventis/Watts/Kane Strakka HPD + 6 laps
8. P2 Dolan/Hancock Jota Zytek-Nissan + 9 laps
9. P2 Martin/Kerr/Graves ADR-Delta ORECA-Nissan + 9 laps
10. P2 Firth/Hughes/Hartley Murphy ORECA-Nissan + 9 laps
11. P2 Heinemeir Hansson/Leinders OAK Morgan-Judd + 10 laps
12. P1 Brabham/Chandhok/Dumbreck JRM HPD + 10 laps
13. P2 Clarke/Briere/Petersen Boutsen Ginion ORECA-Nissan + 11 laps
14. P2 Giroix/Jousse/Johansson Gulf Lola-Nissan + 12 laps
15. P1 Bourdais/Minassian Pescarolo Dome-Judd + 13 laps
16. P2 Zugel/Gonzalez/Julian Greaves Zytek-Nissan + 13 laps
17. P2 Nicolet/Lahaye/Pla OAK Morgan-Judd + 16 laps
18. GTE P Lieb/Lietz Felbermayr Porsche + 16 laps
19. GTE P Fisichella/Bruni AF Corse Ferrari + 16 laps
20. GTE P Makowiecki/Melo Luxury Ferrari + 17 laps
21. GTE P Bertolini/Beretta AF Corse Ferrari + 19 laps
22. GTE A Armindo/Narac/Pons Imsa Porsche + 21 laps
23. P2 Ihara/Deletraz Gulf Lola-Nissan + 21 laps
24. GTE A Ried/Roda/Ruberti Felbermayr Porsche + 21 laps
25. P2 Perez Companc/Ayari/Kaffer Pecom ORECA-Nissan + 21 laps
26. GTE A Perazzini/Cioci/Griffin AF Corse Ferrari + 22 laps
27. GTE A Bornhauser/Canal/Rees Larbre Corvette + 23 laps
28. GTE A Ehret/Montecalvo/Jeannette Luxury Ferrari + 23 laps
29. P2 Moro/Weeda/Rossiter Lotus Lola + 23 laps
30. P2 Panciatici/Ragues/Rusinov Signatech ORECA-Nissan + 24 laps
31. GTE A Camathias/Palttala/Daniels JWA Porsche + 26 laps
32. GTE A Krohn/Jonsson/Rugolo Krohn Ferrari + 31 laps
33. P2 Mailleux/Lombard/Tresson Signatech ORECA-Nissan + 32 laps
34. P2 Potolicchio/Dalziel/Sarrazin HPD ARX 03b-Honda + 37 laps
P1 Moreau/Baguette/Kraihamer OAK Pescarolo-Judd 151 laps
P2 Holzer/Schultis/van der Zande Lotus Lola 124 laps
P2 Thirion/Haezebrouck Extreme Limite Norma-Judd 83 laps
P2 Frey/Hirschi/Meichtry Race Performance ORECA-Judd 45 laps
GTE A Belloc/Bourret Larbre Corvette 39 laps
GTE P Fernandez/Mucke/Turner Aston Martin 11 laps
GTE A Kauffman/Vickers/Aguas AF Waltrip Ferrari 0 laps