AUTOSPORT (LE MANS) – Audi claimed the first Le Mans 24 Hours victory for a hybrid car as #1 crew Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler repeated their 2011 triumph in the 80th running of the famous event.
The trio led a one-two for the new e-tron and topped an all-Audi podium.
But while that result might have been widely predicted given the rival Toyota TS030’s lack of preparation mileage and Audi’s enthusiasm for proving the effectiveness of its e-tron concept, the winners certainly did not have it easy.
Toyota exceeded expectations with its pace and Audi allowed its drivers to push other to the limit in a battle from which none of the combatants could get through totally unscathed.
None suffered as big an accident as Toyota man Anthony Davidson though, with the Briton sustaining two fractured vertebrae in a horrifying clash with a GT car.
The #1 Audi was the only one of the team’s four cars not to run into moderate trouble in the opening hours, as both ultras needed precautionary garage visits for checks, and the sister #2 e-tron had to pit to remove a large amount of rubber build-up that was interfering with its suspension.
That allowed the impressively quick Toyotas to take the fight to the #1 Audi, and near the end of hour five Toyota’s Nicolas Lapierre was going wheel-to-wheel with Audi’s race leader Treluyer in a spectacular side-by-side dice from which the TS030 emerged on top.
But just as it did so, the television cameras cut to the sight of the wreckage of the sister #8 TS030, which had flipped through the air and slammed into the barriers after contact between Davidson and AF Corse Ferrari GTE Am driver Piergiuseppe Perazzini on the approach to Mulsanne corner.
A long safety car period followed while Davidson was extricated and the crash barriers rebuilt following violent assaults from both the Toyota and Ferrari.
Toyota lost the lead in the pitstop during this caution, and then saw its starring run all but ended at the restart when Kazuki Nakajima clashed with the DeltaWing, ending the experimental car’s promising race and forcing the Toyota into its garage for extensive bodywork and floor repairs.
An engine failure then stopped the car just before half-distance.
There was still an Audi e-tron internecine squabble to keep the race alive up front, though. The #2 car got the break it needed when the hitherto flawless #1 was spun into the Porsche Curves barriers by Fassler shortly before dawn. The damage was repaired during scheduled stops, but it brought the #1 back into range – and when Fassler had an incident with the #74 Corvette and mangled the rear bodywork again on Sunday morning, the race was wide open again.
In the end, though, it was an accident for the #2 that decided the race, as Allan McNish spun into the Porsche Curves barriers just over two hours from the finish when trying to pass a GTE Ferrari.
Typically rapid Audi repairs meant he, Tom Kristensen and Dindo Capello (in his Le Mans swansong) kept their second place, but there would be no more challenges to Lotterer, the unwell Treluyer and Fassler.
The best of the ultras finished third with Oliver Jarvis, Marco Bonanomi and Mike Rockenfeller, three laps down on the winner. There was little to choose between the e-trons and ultras in terms of headline pace, but the e-trons had a smoother run – particularly compared to the #3 Audi, which was placed in the barriers by both Romain Dumas and Marc Gene in near-identical incidents on Saturday evening and Sunday morning respectively.
Those crashes left the Audi back in fifth, and opened the door for the relentless #12 Rebellion Lola-Toyota of Nick Heidfeld, Neel Jani and Nicolas Prost to claim fourth.
Rebellion had a great shot at getting both its cars in the top six, had the #13 not required a clutch change a few hours from the finish.
JRM completed the top six with its HPD, as Peter Dumbreck, Karun Chandhok and David Brabham overcame the team’s tough start to LMP1 life with an impressive race performance.
Strakka, the top independent team from qualifying, charged hard to try and make up for a pre-race oil leak that left it starting six laps down, and nearly caught JRM before a puncture and then engine issues halted it.
LMP2 was as competitive as expected. OAK’s Morgan set the early pace before its #24 car lost oil pressure and several punctures stymied the #25. The metronomic Starworks HPD therefore added Le Mans LMP2 victory and seventh place overall to the team’s excellent Daytona and Sebring results.
The #46 TDS ORECA fended off the #49 Pecom entry and Signatech’s #26 to take second, while the Brundle family’s Greaves Zytek-Nissan had a number of niggling problems.
GTE Pro started as an epic four-way fight, but ultimately the lead AF Corse Ferrari’s pace and ability to run longer stints than its rivals saw it come from the back to take a commanding victory – as the team masterfully turned its week around following Giancarlo Fisichella’s massive Wednesday crash. The Italian F1 veteran took the win alongside team-mates Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander.
It was a Ferrari one-two, as Luxury’s polesitters Frederic Makowiecki, Dominik Farnbacher and Jaime Melo took second despite losing time with late brake changes.
They resisted a recovery charge from Aston Martin, which lost crucial ground when Stefan Mucke put the car into the Indianapolis barriers on Sunday morning.
Corvette was in the thick of the initial dicing, but a series of incidents left the #74 rather battered and the #73 was delayed by steering problems.
GTE Am saw the most thrilling finish, with little to separate the Larbre Corvette and the Imsa Porsche even in the closing minutes. A charge from Pedro Lamy took the Corvette past Imsa’s Anthony Pons even before a puncture hobbled the Porsche almost within sight of the flag – although Lamy then had to dive for the pits to hand over to team-mate Julien Canal on the very last lap to ensure the latter completed the minimum permitted driving time.
Patrick Bornhauser completed the class winning line-up, with the Krohn Ferrari filling the podium. Flying Lizard’s #79 Porsche had dominated the class until a Saturday evening crash.
FULL RESULTS 24 HOURS OF LE MANS 2012: Pos Car Drivers Class Laps Gap 1. #1 Audi Lotterer/Fassler/Treluyer LMP1 378 2. #2 Audi McNish/Capello/Kristensen LMP1 377 + 1 Lap 3. #4 Audi Jarvis/Bonanomi/Rockenfeller LMP1 375 + 3 Laps 4. #12 Lola Prost/Heidfeld/Jani LMP1 367 + 11 Laps 5. #3 Audi Gene/Dumas/Duval LMP1 366 + 12 Laps 6. #22 HPD Brabham/Dumbreck/Chandhok LMP1 357 + 21 Laps 7. #44 HPD Potolicchio/Dalziel/K-Smith LMP2 354 + 24 Laps 8. #46 Oreca Thiriet/Beche/Tinseau LMP2 353 + 25 Laps 9. #49 Oreca Perez Companc/Kaffer/Ayari LMP2 352 + 26 Laps 10. #26 Oreca Ragues/Panciatici/Rusinov LMP2 351 + 27 Laps 11. #13 Lola Belicchi/Bleekemolen/Primat LMP1 350 + 28 Laps 12. #41 Zytek Zugel/Julian/Gonzalez LMP2 348 + 30 Laps 13. #25 Oreca Martin/Charouz/Graves LMP2 346 + 32 Laps 14. #35 Morgan H Hansson/Leinders/Martin LMP2 341 + 37 Laps 15. #42 Zytek Brundle/Brundle/Ordonez LMP2 340 + 38 Laps 16. #23 Oreca Tresson/Mailleux/Lombard LMP2 340 + 2m47.469s 17. #51 Ferrari Fisichella/Bruni/Vilander GTEP 336 + 42 Laps 18. #59 Ferrari Makowiecki/Melo/Farnbacher GTEP 333 + 45 Laps 19. #97 Aston Mucke/Fernandez/Turner GTEP 332 + 46 Laps 20. #50 Corvette Bornhauser/Canal/Lamy GTEA 329 + 49 Laps 21. #67 Porsche Pons/Armindo/Narac GTEA 328 + 50 Laps 22. #71 Ferrari Bertolini/Beretta/Cioci GTEP 326 + 52 Laps 23. #73 Corvette Garcia/Magnussen/Taylor GTEP 326 + 3m10.910s 24. #45 Oreca Briere/Nakano/Petersen LMP2 325 + 53 Laps 25. #57 Ferrari Krohn/Jonsson/Rugolo GTEA 323 + 55 Laps 26. #40 Oreca Frey/Hirschi/Meichtry LMP2 320 + 58 Laps 27. #79 Porsche Neiman/Pumpelly/Pilet GTEA 313 + 65 Laps 28. #70 Corvette Bourret/Gibon/Belloc GTEA 309 + 69 Laps 29. #43 Norma Rosier/Haezebrouck/Thirion LMP2 308 + 70 Laps 30. #21 HPD Leventis/Kane/Watts LMP1 303 + 75 Laps 31. #61 Ferrari Kauffman/Aguas/Vickers GTEA 294 + 84 Laps 32. #83 Ferrari Rodrigues/Illiano/Ferte GTEA 292 + 86 Laps 33. #55 Porsche Daniels/Palttala/Camathias GTEA 290 + 88 Laps 34. #74 Corvette Gavin/Westbrook/Milner GTEP 215 + 163 Laps 35. #17 Dome Minassian/Bourdais/Ara LMP1 202 + 176 Laps 36. #38 Zytek Hancock/Dolan/Kurosawa LMP2 271 Retired 37. #33 HPD Tucker/Bouchut/Diaz LMP2 240 Retired 38. #30 Lola Sims/Buurman/Iannetta LMP2 239 Retired 39. #88 Porsche Ried/Roda/Ruberti GTEA 222 Retired 40. #15 OAK Montagny/Kraihamer/Baguette LMP1 219 Retired 41. #66 Ferrari Walker/Cocker/Wills GTEP 204 Retired 42. #48 Oreca Firth/Hartley/Hughes LMP2 196 Retired 43. #77 Porsche Lietz/Lieb/Henzler GTEP 184 Retired 44. #75 Porsche al Faisal/Curtis/Edwards GTEA 180 Retired 45. #31 Lola Holzer/Schultis/Moro LMP2 155 Retired 46. #58 Ferrari Ehret/Jeannette/Montecalvo GTEA 146 Retired 47. #24 Morgan Nicolet/Lahaye/Pla LMP2 139 Retired 48. #7 Toyota Wurz/Lapierre/Nakajima LMP1 134 Retired 49. #80 Porsche Bergmeister/Long/Holzer GTEP 114 Retired 50. #28 Lola Giroix/Badey/Johansson LMP2 92 Retired 51. #8 Toyota Davidson/Buemi/Sarrazin LMP1 82 Retired 52. #0 DeltaWing Franchitti/Krumm/Motoyama CDNT 75 Retired 53. #81 Ferrari Perazzini/Cadei/Griffin GTEA 70 Retired 54. #99 Aston Nygaard/Poulsen/Simonsen GTEA 31 Retired 55. #16 Pescarolo Collard/Bouillon/Hall LMP1 20 Retired 56. #29 Lola Ihara/Deletraz/Rostan LMP2 17 Retired