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Nick Heidfeld said he never believed that Rebellion Racing would be able to beat one of the Audis in the 2012 Le Mans 24 Hours.
The ex-Formula 1 driver and teammates Nicolas Prost and Neel Jani claimed Rebellion's best-ever finish, crossing the line eight laps adrift of the third-placed Audi R18 ultra and ahead of Audi's #3 car.
"It's great, the best ever result for the team, my first 24-hour race finish," he told AUTOSPORT. "It feels like a win, even though it is not quite like that. It's definitely the maximum we could have achieved, we had one Audi behind and we could never have expected that. It is great for the team, they've put so much effort in."
Reliability put the #12 Rebellion crew in the position to be the first gasoline-powered entry home. The team's two Lola-Toyota coupes ran together in the top 10 over the early laps as their chief rivals fell by the wayside; the Pescarolo Dome-Judd needed mechanical attention inside the first hour, while the Strakka HPD – which had qualified quickest of the privateers – started six laps late because of a gearbox oil leak.
"Here at Le Mans you cannot take too many big risks," said Heidfeld. "In the beginning you have to push and then you have to see how the race unfolds. The first three cars here all finished a lap apart – you have to remember you're running a 24-hour race but not everybody remembers this all the time.
"We had some problems with our clutch, but that was only an issue at the pit stops, and a little thing with the throttle but nothing major. The car was strong all the way."
While the #13 Rebellion car fell back overnight after work in the garage, the #12 crew found themselves in a position to exceed their expectations when Marc Gene put the #3 Audi in the wall during the 22nd hour, dropping out of fourth place. Jani was at the wheel of the Lola before handing over to Prost.
"In some stages we were going easy, lapping in 3m36s, 3m37s, but at the end we really had to fight," Jani said. "We realized we could do P4, so they told me: 'Finish fuel saving – go for it.'
"I did five stints and in my fourth stint I did a 3m29s, which was faster than in qualifying. Thanks also to Nicolas and Nick, they didn't put a foot wrong while the Audis were making lots of little mistakes.
"We wanted to be there, maybe to capitalize, but unfortunately they had enough spare parts! I was hoping they would run out of noses."