Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Loic Duval took a commanding victory in a Le Mans 24 Hours that was overshadowed by the death of Danish driver Allan Simonsen early in the race.
For Kristensen it was a ninth win in the race and extended the record he already held. McNish took his third Le Mans win while Duval, who put the car on pole last Wednesday, claimed success in the race for the first time.
Audi has now won the event for 12 of the last 14 years.
Duval assumed the lead in the #2 R18 e-tron quattro in the seventh hour when the Benoit Treluyer/Andre Lotterer/Marcel Fassler #1 car, which had held the advantage from the start, spent 12 laps in the pits while an alternator problem was fixed.
A puncture sustained in traffic while Oliver Jarvis was at the wheel put the #3 Audi on the back foot at around the same time. The machine later needed further bodywork repairs that dropped it a further lap off the pace an hour later. While the #1 car dropped outside the top 20 and the #3 fell to sixth, the Toyotas moved up to second and third.
Sebastien Buemi even had the audacity to get his #8 TS030 Hybrid back on the lead lap in the final half-hour to claim a well-deserved runner-up spot with Anthony Davidson and Stephane Sarrazin, but the #7 was not so lucky. After losing third to Jarvis with four hours to go, Nicolas Lapierre crashed heavily at the Porsche curves, but amazingly managed to get his car back to the pits and repaired without dropping any more spots.
The Strakka HPD of Jonny Kane/Danny Watts/Nick Leventis finished sixth after the Rebellion Lola challenge was blunted by a safety car-inducing shunt for Andrea Belicchi on Sunday morning and gearbox problems for the #12 car that boasted Neel Jani and Nick Heidfeld on its lineup.
OAK Racing claimed a one-two finish in LMP2; Bertrand Baguette recovering from a spin in the final hour when heavy rain doused the circuit to take victory with Ricardo Gonzalez and Martin Plowman.
Second was the sister Morgan-Nissan of Olivier Pla/Alex Brundle/David Heinemeier Hansson while Mike Conway/John Martin/Roman Rusinov were third in their G-Drive/Delta-ADR ORECA-Nissan.
The G-Drive machine lost two laps – the margin it finished behind the winner – to a slow puncture early on and an unscheduled pit stop to change regulation lighting panels on the side of the car during the night.
For a large portion of the race the GTE Pro division looked likely to be dominated by an Aston Martin Racing squad still in mourning after news of Simonsen's death broke on Saturday evening.
A heavy crash from leader Frederic Makowiecki at the second Mulsanne chicane with five and a half hours to go handed the advantage to the sister Vantage GTE of Stefan Mucke/Darren Turner/Rob Bell. But as the race moved along the #92 Manthey-run factory Porsche of Richard Lietz/Marc Lieb/Romain Dumas came into contention.
The late rain shower led to a range of strategies being adopted. Lietz stayed out on dry tires when the weather was at its worst and was then able to use the fact that Mucke had been held in the pits by a red light to open up what would be a winning a four-minute advantage at a stroke.
With the sister #91 Porsche of Patrick Pilet/Jorg Bergmeister/Timo Bernhard also making a smart tire call at this point the Aston was relegated to third.
Neither the factory Corvettes, nor the AF Corse Ferraris were ever in contention; Toni Vilander throwing away fifth in one of the Italian machines when he planted his in the tires at Mulsanne corner when the rain came.
Aston also led the GTE Am division early on until polesitter Simonsen crashed fatally at Tertre Rouge on lap three; the Vantage GTE causing extensive damage to the crash barriers on the exit of the corner.
Marco Cioci and Matt Griffin picked up the baton and led first six hours in the #61 AF Corse Ferrari, but dropped down the order after co-driver Jack Gerber spun several times.
As the race developed and the #88 Proton and #77 Dempsey Del Piero Porsches suffered various maladies, the #76 Imsa 911 GT3 RSR of Jean-Karl Vernay/Raymond Narac/Christophe Bourret came to the fore.
A one-lap advantage was established with four hours to go, which proved enough to give the French trio victory ahead of the #55 AF Corse machine of Piergiuseppe Perazzini/Darryl O'Young/Lorenzo Case. The #61 car finished third.
POSITIONS AFTER 24 HOURS
Pos Cl Car Drivers Laps Gap
1. P1 #2 Audi Kristensen/McNish/Duval 348
2. P1 #8 Toyota Davidson/Sarrazin/Buemi 347 + 1 Lap
3. P1 #3 Audi Gene/Jarvis/di Grassi 347 + 1m55.252s
4. P1 #7 Toyota Wurz/Lapierre/Nakajima 341 + 7 Laps
5. P1 #1 Audi Lotterer/Treluyer/Fassler 338 + 10 Laps
6. P1 #21 HPD Leventis/Kane/Watts 332 + 16 Laps
7. P2 #35 Morgan Baguette/Plowman/Gonzalez 329 + 19 Laps
8. P2 #24 Morgan Pla/Brundle/H Hansson 328 + 20 Laps
9. P2 #26 Oreca Rusinov/Martin/Conway 327 + 21 Laps
10. P2 #42 Zytek Krumm/Mardenborough/Ordonez 327 + 1m07.075s
11. P2 #49 Oreca P-Companc/Kaffer/Minassian 325 + 23 Laps
12. P2 #43 Morgan Gachnang/Mailleux/Lombard 320 + 28 Laps
13. P2 #48 Oreca Hartley/Chandhok/Patterson 319 + 29 Laps
14. P2 #38 Zytek Dolan/Turvey/Luhr 319 + 4m01.549s
15. P2 #36 Alpine Ragues/Panciatici/Gommendy 317 + 31 Laps
16. GTP #92 Porsche Lieb/Lietz/Dumas 315 + 33 Laps
17. GTP #91 Porsche Bergmeister/Pilet/Bernhard 315 + 2m10.631s
18. GTP #97 Aston Mucke/Turner/Dumbreck 314 + 34 Laps
19. P2 #34 Oreca Frey/Niederhauser/Bleekemolen 314 + 1m27.131s
20. GTP #73 Corvette Garcia/Magnussen/Taylor 312 + 36 Laps
21. GTP #71 Ferrari Beretta/Kobayashi/Vilander 311 + 37 Laps
22. GTP #51 Ferrari Bruni/Fisichella/Malucelli 311 + 1m57.110s
23. GTP #74 Corvette Gavin/Milner/Westbrook 309 + 39 Laps
24. P2 #41 Zytek Rossi/K-Smith/Lux 307 + 41 Laps
25. GTP #53 SRT Farnbacher/Goossens/Dalziel 306 + 42 Laps
26. GTA #76 Porsche Narac/Vernay/Bourret 306 + 1m51.302s
27. GTA #55 Ferrari Perazzini/O'Young/Case 305 + 43 Laps
28. GTA #61 Ferrari Gerber/Griffin/Cioci 305 + 1m26.507s
29. GTA #77 Porsche Dempsey/Foster/Long 305 + 2m51.114s
30. GTA #50 Corvette Bornhauser/Canal/Taylor 302 + 46 Laps
31. GTA #96 Aston Goethe/Campbell-Walter/Hall 301 + 47 Laps
32. GTP #93 SRT Wittmer/Kendall/Bomarito 301 + 1m58.599s
33. P2 #40 Oreca Dagoneau/Downs/Younessi 300 + 48 Laps
34. GTA #67 Porsche Gibon/Milesi/Henzler 300 + 32.348s
35. GTP #66 Ferrari Bertolini/Faisal/Qubaisi 300 + 51.765s
36. GTA #88 Porsche Ried/Roda/Ruberti 300 + 1m28.639s
37. GTA #75 Porsche Collard/Perrodo/Crubile 298 + 50 Laps
38. GTA #81 Ferrari Potolicchio/Aguas/Bright 294 + 54 Laps
39. P2 #39 Lola Porta/Brandela/Raffin 280 + 68 Laps
40. P1 #12 Lola Prost/Jani/Heidfeld 275 + 73 Laps
41. P1 #13 Lola Beche/Belicchi/Cheng 275 + 1m27.020s
42. GTA #70 Corvette MacNeil/Rodrigues/Dumas 268 + 80 Laps
43. P2 #33 HPD Tucker/Franchitti/Briscoe 242 + 106 Laps
44. P2 #46 Oreca Thiriet/Badey/Martin 310 Retired
45. GTP #99 Aston Makowiecki/Senna/Bell 248 Retired
46. P2 #45 Morgan Nicolet/Merlin/Mondolot 246 Retired
47. P2 #47 Morgan Imperatori/Howson/Tung 241 Retired
48. GTP #98 Aston Dalla Lana/Lamy/Auberlen 221 Retired
49. P2 #32 Lotus Holzer/Kraihamer/Charouz 219 Retired
50. P2 #30 Lola Mowlem/Burgess/Hirschi 153 Retired
51. GTA #54 Ferrari Mallegol/Bachelier/Blank 147 Retired
52. GTA #57 Ferrari Krohn/Jonsson/Mediani 111 Retired
53. P2 #25 Oreca Graves/Hamilton/Nakano 101 Retired
54. P2 #28 Lola Giroix/Haezebrouck/Ihara 22 Retired
55. P2 #31 Lotus Weeda/Rossiter/Bouchut 17 Retired
56. GTA #95 Aston Simonsen/Nygaard/Poulsen 2 Retired