Audi wins as Le Mans goes to the wire

Peugeot do their best, but the lone Audi R18 to make it to the finish of the Le Mans 24 Hours does so on top of the pile
Marcel Fassler/Andre Lotterer/Benoit Treluyer - Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 TDI
Marcel Fassler/Andre Lotterer/Benoit Treluyer - Audi Sport Team Joest Audi…
© Jakob Ebrey Photography

Despite losing a pair of cars to two of the biggest accidents seen at Le Mans in recent years, Audi saw off the determined - and at times controversial - challenge of Peugeot to secure victory in the 79th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours.

The #2 R18 of Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fassler and Andre Lotterer had been left to fly the flag for Audi after Allan McNish and Mike Rockenfeller were involved in huge accidents before midnight on Saturday.

McNish failed to make it past the hour mark when he clashed with the Ferrari of Anthony Beltoise at the Dunlop Curves and went off into the barriers at high-speed, with debris from his car flying into a photographers area on the side of the circuit.

Despite the violent nature of the accident, everyone involved escaped injury, with McNish later returning to the circuit after a brief check in hospital.

Rockenfeller meanwhile would depart the race in even more dramatic fashion after darkness had fallen, with the German forced onto the grass by Rob Kaufmann's GTE Ferrari at the kink after Mulsanne. Rockenfeller went off heavily into the barriers in an accident that left the #1 Audi little more than a pile of scrap metal, with Rockenfeller spending the night in hospital for observation as a result.

The #2 car was therefore left to fight against the three factory Peugeot's for more than half of the race, with Peugeot employing somewhat questionable tactics at times - with two separate incidents threatening to overshadow what would become a titanic battle for victory.

Both Anthony Davidson and Marc Gene was guilty of blocking the Audi despite being a number of laps down, with Gene actually making contact with the leader on two separate occasions.

As it was, the fight for victory came down to a final hour sprint between Lotterer in the Audi and Simon Pagenaud in the #9 Peugeot. On its final stop, Audi gambled on putting fresh tyres on which allowed the Peugeot to close in. Lotterer wasn't to be beaten however and responded whenever Pagenaud tried to up the pace to take victory by under 14 seconds.

Such was the fight to the finish, the traditional slowing down lap prior to the chequered flag had to be canned given how close the leading pair were.

Nic Minassian brought the #8 Peugeot home to the finish in third while Gene finished fourth in the #7 - which had lost time earlier in the race when Alex Wurz went off at Indianapolis. Team Oreca's Peugeot was fifth, albeit 16 laps down after a race that featured its fair share of dramas, including an off for Loic Duval that resulted in the rear bodywork flailing off the car as the Frenchman rejoined.

Rebellion Racing secured unofficial petrol honours in sixth place with its #12 Lola-Toyota, the sister car having crashed out in the 14th hour when Jean-Christophe Boullion lost control at the Porsche Curves. The Porsche Curves would also be the section of circuit where Pescarolo's hopes of a top six finish on its return to the race ended when Emmanuel Collard went off into the tyres during a rain shower in the closing hours.

The Kronos Racing Lola Aston Martin was the only other LMP1 car running at the finish, taking seventh place with its all-Belgian driver line-up.

Elsewhere in LMP1, the two Aston Martin AMR-Ones retired in the first hour with identical mechanical problems while engine issues accounted for the Quifel-ASM Zytek. The Hope Racing hybrid failed to inspire before eventually dropping out while OAK Racing saw both its cars in the top class retire from the race.

LMP2 honours went the way of Greaves Motorsport, with its Nissan-powered Zytek finishing a full eight laps clear of its nearest challenger. The team was aided by the fact that defending champions Strakka Racing and Team Oreca both failed to finish having run towards the front of the class, but a strong showing from the small British outfit left them as deserved class winners in eighth overall - youngster Olivier Lombard in particular impressing behind the wheel.

Signatech Nissan claimed second place with the Level 5 Motorsport team taking third; putting three different chassis - Zytek, Oreca and Nissan - in the top three places.

RML secured fourth place ahead of the #49 OAK Racing Pescarolo, although it remains to be seen if the fifth placed car will be classified as a finisher after a late engine problem saw the car complete a very slow final lap.

A heated battle for GTE-Pro honours eventually went the way of Corvette Racing, with the #73 C6 ZR1 of Olivier Beretta, Tommy Milner and Antonio Garcia beating the AF Corse Ferrari of Giancarlo Fisichella, Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander to victory.

That went some towards making up for the fact that the sister Corvette had crashed out of the lead when Jan Magnussen got out of shape towards the end of the lap and took out the GTE-Am Proton Competition Porsche.

Third went to the #56 BMW M3 GT although it was a difficult race for the German marque, which saw the #55 retire.

There was also disappointment for a number of GTE-Pro teams including JMW Motorsport, which was the last car in class to take the finish after a myriad of issues, and Luxury Racing which failed to see the finish with either of its Ferrari 458s. Special mention however goes to the Lotus Jetalliance team which managed to get its #65 Evora to the finish seventh in class. Given problems elsewhere, the Lotus also finished third amongst those GTE-Pro cars registered for the ILMC.

GTE-Am went to Larbre Competition, with Jack Leconte's team securing the top two positions in class. Its Corvette was the eventual winner ahead of its Porsche with third place going to the Robertson Racing Ford GT, albeit many laps down on the winner.

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