Peugeot has scored a one-two victory in the Petit Le Mans after the 2009 race was finally called off three hours after the red flag came out as a torrential downpour set in.
The officials had desperately hoped that conditions would relent enough to allow racing to resume, but they gave up waiting just after 8 p.m. local time and waved the chequered flag on a field that had stood silent in the pitlane for three and a quarter hours.
Franck Montagny and Stephane Sarrazin took the win ahead of Nicolas Minassian and Pedro Lamy, the #08 crew having hit the front just before the stoppage after earlier falling two laps down following a strategic miscue.
But there was huge disappointment for Audi, as Allan McNish and Dindo Capello lost the lead when the Scot spun under yellow shortly before the red flag came out. The result marked the end of Audi's nine-year undefeated run in the event.
The much-delayed #20 Dyson Lola-Mazda of Marino Franchitti, Ben Devlin and Butch Leitzinger won an LMP2 class decimated by attrition, while Risi Ferrari's Jaime Melo, Mika Salo and Pierre Kaffer topped GT2 thanks to a brilliant strategy call just before the rain arrived - the team changing to wets under yellow and emerging a lap ahead of its rivals when they all had to pit under green.
The return of the rain that had blighted private testing had been anticipated all week - and it finally came in time for this morning's warm-up. The track remained wet for the start, which saw McNish blast through from third place to pass the front row Peugeot duo at Turn 1. He then stormed away from the field, with teammate Marco Werner following him through to take second, and the Peugeots steadily losing ground.
The ultimately-victorious #08 car fared worst in the damp, slipping right back to sixth at one stage and then dropping two laps down after Sarrazin stayed on wets at his first stop even though the track was already starting to dry. With the rest of the field all going straight to dry tires when they pitted shortly afterwards, the #08 had to make an extra stop before the first hour was completed.
While Sarrazin and Montagny swiftly set about making up the lost ground, their team-mates closed in on McNish and Capello on the dry track. But despite trailing Peugeot throughout the build-up, the Audi had enough pace to hold off and sometimes edge away from the 908 in race trim.
Frustratingly for Audi, it was an innocuous spin under yellow by its star driver McNish that cost it a 10th consecutive Petit victory. The drizzle that preceded the downpour had just begun when the Scot rotated while warming his tires on the exit of Turn 5. He potentially had five hours of racing to make up for that error, but the rain soon started to increase, and the event only went green again fleetingly before lightning overhead and a saturated track saw the red flags come out with the #2 Audi still down in third.
By that time it was the #08 Peugeot that led, having made up one of its lost laps on track and the other thanks to a well-timed safety car, before getting ahead of the #07 at what proved to be the final pitstops.
But it would be over three hours before the French team could celebrate its second major victory of the year after Le Mans. The organizers did their best to try and make the track fit for racing again, hoping that a final sprint under darkness could take place to decide the result under green, but with the weather refusing to co-operate eventually the checkered flag was shown three and a quarter hours after the cars last turned a wheel.
Werner and Lucas Luhr lost touch with the lead battle by spending too long on wets and the start and ended up a lapped fourth, ahead of the quietly consistent ORECA and the Highcroft Acura rebuilt after Scott Sharp's terrifying practice crash.
Sharp and David Brabham now only need a handful of points to secure the American Le Mans Series LMP1 title at Laguna Seca as their rivals at De Ferran Acura had a disastrous race. Gil de Ferran had been fighting for second place with the Peugeots when Intersport driver Jon Field crashed into him early on, forcing a long stop for suspension repairs, and guest driver Scott Dixon then put the car in the Turn 5 barriers later, leaving it ninth in class, 48 laps down.
The Drayson Lola ran in the top six in the opening hours, but was eventually classified at the tail of the field having crashed twice, the first time when a wheel problem put Rob Bell in the barriers.
On paper, the top LMP2 car was the #16 Dyson Lola-Mazda of Guy Smith and Chris Dyson in seventh overall - but as that car was ineligible this weekend due to running on a new bio-butanol fuel that the team hopes to use in 2010, it was actually their teammates Marino Franchitti, Ben Devlin and Butch Leitzinger who picked up the win, nine laps further back.
The pole-sitting #20 car had pitted for long repairs just 12 laps into the race when a gearshift actuator problem struck, and then lost more time when Leitzinger spun at a restart. But with the Fernandez Acura severely delayed with steering issues and the Cytosport Porsche needing repeated attention to a electrical glitch, the Dyson crew still emerged victorious.
Cytosport's Klaus Graf had been one of the stars of the race, charging to fifth overall in the wet, passing the eventually victorious #08 Peugeot and lapping the LMP2 field, only to spin off on his first lap on slicks and then struggle to restart.
A superbly competitive GT2 race ultimately fell to the crew that had tailed the six-car lead pack for most of the afternoon. The Risi Ferrari managed to stay in touch with the leaders and then vaulted ahead when the team put wets on just before the rain started in earnest, giving Salo a one-lap advantage as his rivals all had to pit under green a few laps later. When that lead was confirmed as a class win, it also brought Melo and Kaffer back into title contention going into the Laguna finale.
The Corvettes had led for most of the way, often with just a few seconds covering them, the Flying Lizard and Farnbacher Loles Porsches, Risi and the Rahal Letterman BMWs. It was the #92 BMW that emerged in second ahead of Farnbacher Loles, with the #4 Corvette and the #45 Flying Lizard car falling to fourth and fifth in the scramble for wets, and the #3 Corvette spinning off in the rain.
The second BMW was delayed early on by an oil leak, while the Robertson Doran Ford and LG Riley Corvette that had stunned in qualifying both ran into trouble in the opening laps. An off-track excursion caused underside damage to the Riley Corvette, while the Doran Ford twice lost a section of rear bodywork.