Audi runs 1-2 at the Le Mans 24 Hours with the course neutralised after Allan McNish suffered a high-speed accident in the No. 3 R18. Timo Bernhard leads from Benoit Treluyer, with the Peugeot of Franck Montagny running third.
Treluyer and Bernhard led away from Montagny at the start as the frontrunners got away in grid order. Treluyer ran slightly wide through the Dunlop chicane, affording Bernhard a half-opportunity which he briefly investigated before thinking the better of it.
McNish sought to extricate himself from the Peugeot sandwich, challenging Montagny while being harried in turn by Sebastien Bourdais. At the end of lap 4 he tried to move alongside on the pit straight only for Montagny to force him uncomfortably close to the pit wall. Undeterred, he brought the No. 3 R18 alongside on the Mulsanne on lap 6 and swept around the outside of the No. 8 Peugeot into the PlayStation chicane. Once released, McNish closed the gap to his teammate s.
The No. 1 and No. 3 Audis pitted for fuel after nine laps, while Treluyer stayed out for an additional lap. Montagny followed him in, while Bourdais and Wurz waited until lap 11 to stop the No. 9 and No. 7 Peugeots. Wurz departed his box before his teammate and Treluyer emerged from the pit lane as Bernhard swept by. McNish then compounded Treluyer's woe by passing him for second.
At the beginning of lap 14 the No. 58 Luxury Racing Ferrari driven by Anthony Beltoise left the pit lane as the leading Audis came through. McNish dodged past Bernhard to snatch the lead as they passed under the Dunlop bridge, then dived inside the slower Ferrari. There was not quite enough room and the rear of the Audi clipped the Ferrari, spinning McNish round. Momentum carried the Audi straight through the gravel trap backwards and into the tyre barrier, but McNish was able to leave the car unaided despite the magnitude of the impact.
Both Aston Martins suffered misfortunes early on as Darren Turner beached the No. 007 car in the gravel after spinning at the PlayStation chicane and the No. 009 halted with Adrian Fernandez at the wheel. Once released from the gravel Turner made his way slowly back to the garage and has yet to emerge.
In LMP2 Franck Mailleux's Signatech ORECA-Nissan led away from Alexandre Premat in the factory ORECA, but suffered a tyre deflation just before its first stop. Premat took up the class lead from Jan Charouz in the No. 49 Oak Pescarolo- BMW, while Jonny Kane briefly led in the Strakka HPD by dint of being last of the leading group to pit, then ran third after making his stop.
A furious battle erupted in GTE Pro from the opening lap as Gianmaria Bruni
seized the class lead from Augusto Farfus's No. 55 BMW, followed through by Oliver Gavin in the No. 74 Corvette. Bruni's Ferrari continued to lead, while Gavin sternly rebuffed repeated attempts by Farfus to pass. Time and again the BMW came almost alongside on the Mulsanne but Gavin was able to claim the line into the chicanes. Ultimately Farfus made the move stick and remained second in class until just before the yellow flag.
The McNish accident occurred just as the GTE Pro pitstops shook out, with the result that Gavin now leads from his teammate Olivier Beretta, with Nick Tandy third in the No. 88 Porsche.