No sooner had Peugeot's bid for success been dented by pit-lane problems for the #8 than Audi's hopes of capitalising took a major blow with an accident for the #2 machine.

While not leading, as the #8 had been when Sebastien Bourdais struggled to rejoin from an otherwise routine pit visit, Lucas Luhr was running on the lead lap, in third place, when the R15 made heavy right rear contact with the barriers at the Porsche Curves.

The German did not appear to be to blame for the incident - as team-mate Mike Rockenfeller was a couple of seasons ago - as the car was snaking heavily before it left the road, suggesting either a puncture or suspension failure that left the driver powerless to prevent the impact.

Despite the damage, which was extensive across the rear of the car with the right corner now at 90-degrees to original and the gearbox appearing to smoke, Luhr continued in his attempts to return to the pits - despite the marshals having dragged the car to an perimeter road amid signals that they believed the race to be over for the German and co-drivers Rockenfeller and Marco Werner.

Eventually, however, Luhr gave in to the imploring of the men in white, trudging disconsolately from the battered R15.

The accident adds to Audi's woes which began with an incident for the #3 entry, which went off on lap two and, having recovered to the top ten, began to suffer suspected cooling and fuel pressure problems that returned it to the pits. The car has sunk back to 45th as a result of losing nearly an hour in the garage.

The #2's exit has left the Peugeot v Audi battle now a direct head-to-head between the #9 and #1 machines respectively, both running on the lead lap following the #8's delay.