André Lotterer, Marcel Fässler and Benoit Treluyer claimed victory in the #1 Audi R18 e-Tron Quattro after a dominant if not quite
flawless performance over the course of 378 laps in the Le Mans 24 hours.
The #2 Audi hybrid of Allan Mcnish, Rinaldo Capello and Tom Kristensen came home in second place despite a late crash for McNish, and the non-hybrid #4 Audio R18 Ultra of Oliver Jarvis, Marco Bonanomi and Mike Rockenfeller made it an all-Audi podium.
However, it wasn't quite the 1-2-3-4 whitewash that the team had dreamed of, with Rebellion Racing managing to put the final Audi for fourth place thanks to the efforts of the #12 Lola B12/60 Couple-Toyota team consisting of Nico Prost, Neel Jani and Nick Heidfeld just holding off the recovering #3 Audio E18 Ultra of Marc Gené, Romain Dumas and Loic Duval after its latest mishap.
Going into the final four hours, there had been no question that the battle at the top between the Audi #1 and #2 e-tron Quattro hybrid cars was a serious and genuine affair, the two only a few seconds apart as they moved urgently past the slower traffic on track even if it meant going three-wide and putting two wheels off onto the grass in the process.
Slightly different pit strategies meant it was initially difficult to tell exactly who had the upper hand in the battle, with each car seeking to press home the advantage when the other came into the pits from the lead. Allan McNish was presented with his best chance with three hours of the race remaining, when Benoit Treluyer came into the pits too hot and locked up the rear wheels trying to brake to under the pit lane speeding limiter. The car spun without doing any damage, except to its margin over the #2.
McNish pushed hard to take advantage, but disaster struck through the Porsche curves when he found himself caught out by a slow-running GTE Ferrari and braked hard, sending the #2 flying off into a head-on clash with the barrier. McNish was able to get the car moving again - running over its own shredded bodywork in the process - and made the short distance back to pit lane, just as the race director brought out the safety cars for the clearance of debris from McNish's accident and a lengthy repair of the safety barrier itself. The #2 required less than nine minutes' work in the garage before being sent back on its way, still comfortably in second but now two laps off the race leader and both now under orders from the Audi management to make sure they brought their respective cars home.
Even despite this latest drama, both cars were well ahead of their non-hybrid counterparts, with Oliver Jarvis continuing to combat "turn it off and on again" electrical problems in the #4 and Romain Dumas having completed his comeback over the two Rebellion Racing cars to hold fourth place in the #3. But Marc Gené then took over and repeated Dumas' earlier mishap, getting offline and stuffing the car into the barrier at a slippery Forza Chicane - exactly the same point of the track that had bitten Dumas the previous day. Gené limped home painfully slowly with badly damaged front right suspension, hoping that the team could once again work miracles in the pit lane - only to find them already hard at work on the #2. His repairs took twice as long and dropped the #3 behind Neel Jani's Rebellion Racing #12 Lola B12/60 Couple-Toyota, leaving him too much work to do to deliver the final piece of the 1-2-3-4 Audi whitewash after all - the only glitch in the Audi domination of the 2012 event.
In the other classes, the category leadership was fairly fixed throughout: the #44 Starworks HPD ARX 038-Honda continued to lead LMP2 in sixth place in the race overall with Ryan Dalziel at the wheel ahead of the #46 Thiret by TDS Racing Oreca 03-Nissan driven by Mathias Beche and the #49 Pecom Racing Oreca 03 Nissan under the control of Luis Perez-Companc for the final stint.
Despite the car's ongoing sticking throttle issue, Lucas Ordonez put in some strong flying laps in the #42 Greaves Motorsport Zytek 03-Nissan that he shared with Brundles Martin and Alex. The car was running in seventh place in the LMP2 class and 15th overall after Martin took over for the final stint. Further down the order, the over-20 hours of racing was taking its toll: Jonny Kane's #21 Strakka HPD ARX 03A-Honda was having water pressure problems that saw it stuck in the garage with overheating problems, the team palpably worried about its chances of making it to the end of the race and opting instead to park and wait to come out late in the race to meet the 70 per cent race distance mark to qualify for FIA
WEC points, provided that it could maintain a good enough minimum legal speed for the effort.