Audi are firm control of the 2012 Le Mans 24 Hours
at third distance after both Toyota entries ran into problems at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
Heading into the fifth hour of competition, the two Toyota cars had been well placed with Sebastien Buemi and Nicolas Lapierre lapping strongly together and chasing down the lead Audi in the hands of Benoit Treluyer.
Buemi had pitted to hand his car over to Anthony Davidson as Lapierre did battle with Treluyer for the lead, with the pair swapping position on a number of occasions before Lapierre was finally able to put Toyota into the lead.
However, just after that happened, Davidson exited the race in dramatic fashion when he collided with the Ferrari of Piergiuseppe Perazzini – with his car getting airbourne before hitting the barriers at the Mulsanne Corner. Perazzini's Ferrari also impacted the tyre wall at speed, bringing out the Safety Car for a lengthy spell as the barrier was repaired.
Under caution, Audi reclaimed top spot on pit lane as the two teams swapped drivers, with Marcel Fassler climbing into the #1 R18 e-tron Quattro and Kazuki Nakajima getting into the Toyota.
Just seconds after the race restarted however, Toyota's challenge effectively ended when Nakajima jinked right in traffic going through the Porsche Curves and hit the DeltaWing – putting the Garage 56 entry into the wall and ultimately into retirement.
After a pitstop to replace rear bodywork, the Toyota was back in a lap later for further work that dropped it well down the order with the car then stalling as it attempted to rejoin the race. Dragged back down the pitlane, the Toyota then sat back in the garage as the race hit the eight-hour mark.
Toyota's issues means that Audi held a 1-2-3 at the eight hour mark, with Andre Lotterer holding a lap lead over Allan McNish in the two hybrid cars, and Oliver Jarvis following behind in third in the first of the two Ultra machines. Behind them, the two Rebellion Racing Lola-Toyotas continue to run strongly and head the privateer challenge, with the #12 ahead despite the spin suffered by Nick Heidfeld early on.
JRM's HPD was giving chase until a puncture for Peter Dumbreck led to him returning slowly to the pits after a spin, which was set to put the final delayed Audi back into the top six.
In LMP2, a stunning stint from Brendon Hartley saw the Murphy Prototypes Oreca-Nissan move into top spot, with Warren Hughes taking over in the lead ahead of the Judd-powered OAK Racing Morgan – the sister Nissan-powered machine having lost time with a puncture. The Starworks HPD sat third but had the Pecom Racing and first of the Signatech Orecas giving chase.
GTE-Pro sees the #74 Corvette leading the #51 AF Corse Ferrari while the GTE-Am battle is headed by Larbre's #50 Corvette.Retirements:
#0 Highcroft Racing DeltaWing Nissan Accident
#8 Toyota Racing Toyota TS030 HYBRID Accident
#81 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia Accident
#99 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage V8 Accident damage
#16 Pescarolo Team Pescarolo-Judd Power steering
#29 Gulf Racing Middle East Lola-Nissan Accident