The gruelling 24-hour Le Mans has once again been aced by Audi. The Ingolstadt team overcame a tough challenge from a resurgent Toyota and sister company Porsche. The #2 R18 e-tron Quattro driven by Marcel Fassler, Andre Lottere and Benoit Treluyer and #1 R18 e-tron Quattro of Tom Kristensen, Marc Gene and Lucas di Grassi crossed the line in formation as a show of strength.
#8 Toyota TS 040 Hybrid of Nicolas Lappiere, Anthony Davidson and Sebastien Buemi finished third to offer some consolation to the Japanese car maker after a seriously strong showing in qualifying and first half of the race.
The lead Toyota #7 (Alex Wurz, Kazuki Nakajima, Stephane Sarazzin) led from the front and had maintained a comfortable lead, till just after midnight, the car ground to a halt at Arnage with electrical issue. Nakajima, who took the car to pole, was at the wheel. "What can I say," said the Japanese later. "We had a great car from the beginning and now this. I feel sorry for all who put so much hard work into this."
It would have been a historic win for Toyota and a culmination of all had work it has put in the last two years to end Audi's supremacy here. The Toyota TS 050 Hybrid has shown remarkable pace all weekend and even at earlier races of the World Endurance Championship. In fact, it still is one of the favorites to win it this year. But Le Mans still eludes it.
Following that retirement, the lead changed hands between Audi No.1 and Porsche #20. As the final few hours were left, it looked Porsche might just spring a surprise in its first year itself with the hybrid LMP, but a puncture cost them the lead as Audi #2 sneaked through. The #1 Audi too kept losing drive forcing it to make an extra pitstop and finally end second.
But Porsche's chance of a strong finish ended with both cars suffering drivetrain issues forcing them to retire in the final hour of the race.
Lower down the order in the LMP2 category, India's Karun Chandhok ended with a retirement early in the first half, yesterday. While the team, Murphy Prototype did well to get the car back in shape after an incident during pre-race warm-up, sudden heavy showers caught him off-guard as the Oreca-Nissan car skidded on the greasy track and into the barriers. He did manage to bring the car back into the pits but it wasn't the same and despite showing good pace early on they had to pack up midway through the first day.
Meanwhile Audi proved its mettle at endurance despite the fact that it had a slightly slower car than both the Toyota and Porsche. Remains to be seen if their performance in the remaining rounds of the World Endurance Championship improves henceforth where Toyota leads. But at Le Mans its supremacy continues and remains to be broken. 13 wins in 16 starts is an enviable record at Le Mans and one that will not be easily broken.
Final Results (Overall)
1. Fassler/Lotterer/Treluyer (Audi)
2. Kristensen/Gene/di Grassi (Audi)
3. Lapierre/Davidson/Buemi (Toyota)
4. Nicholas Prost/Nick Heidfeld/Mathias Beche (Rebellion)
LMP2 winner: Jota Motorsport/Zytek-Nissan (Simon Dolan/Harry Tincknell/Oliver Turvey)
LM GTE Pro winner: AF Corse/Ferrari 458 Italia (Gianmaria Bruni/Toni Vilander/Giancarlo Fisichella)
LM GTE Am winner: Aston Martin Racing/Vantage V8 (Kristian Poulsen/David Heinmier/Nicki Thiim)