"It's getting time to start the race now, preparation time is over," said Audi Sport boss Dr Wolfgang Ullrich as the clock ticked toward 3pm CET and the green flag came out for the start of the 2012 Le Mans 24 Hours race.
The two Audi R18 e-tron cars of Andre Lotterer (in the #1) and Loic Duval (in the #3) leapt away at the front with laps in the 3:28s bracket, while Allan McNish in the #2 Audi got in front of the #8 Toyota 030 of Stephane Serrazin and then seemed to settle into third position acting as a 'rear runner' for the front two, fouling the attempts of Sarrazin and Alexander Wurz to get the most out of their superior straight line speed in the early laps.
In the GTE-Pro category, Jamie Melo in the #59 Luxury Racing Ferrari 459 Italia lost multiple positions and was passed by the #97 Aston Martin Vantage V8 driven by Stefan Mücke, Oliver Gavin in the Chevrolet Corvette C6 and by the #71 AF Corse Ferrari driven by Olivier Beretta.
The #21 Strakka Racing HPD ARX 03a had to start from pit lane following a gearbox oil leak on the formation lap, as did the #16 Pescarolo 03 Judd which had been in the wars again in the morning warm-up with a small engine fire that meant the unit needed replacing before the start of the race.
Although a light shower threatened as the tricolour came out to get the race underway, the rain stayed off for the opening laps. However the track was still damp in places after heavy showers in the morning just before the 45-minute warm-up session had led to all sorts of mayhem as drivers tried out their race cars for the first time in wet track conditions.
Dozens of incidents followed with seemingly everyone having a moment, run-off, half- or full-spin during the session, including the LMP2-class polesitter #25 ADR Delta ORECA-Nissan which found the gravel at the Dunlop bridge while in the hands of Jan Charouz. Marc Rostan's #29 Gulf Racing Lola triggered an early and prolonged red flag in the session after it got stuck in gear after running off, and the By contrast, both Toyotas played safe and opted to come out for just a basic shakedown in the final few minutes of the session.
The showers had also returned to hit the start of the Group C legends support race, which saw Mike Donovan spearing off into a hard head-on impact with the barriers on the Mulsanne Straight in the Spice SE88.