LE MANS, FRANCE — Audi defended its Le Mans 24 Hours endurance title yesterday with Germany’s Andre Lotterer taking the checkered flag for the second year in a row in a first victory for a hybrid car. The dominant German manufacturer swept the podium in its 11th win in the last 13 years at the Sarthe circuit. It won last year with a diesel engine. The number one diesel-hybrid R18 — shared by Lotterer, France’s Benoit Treluyer and Switzerland’s Marcel Faessler — led for most of the race and denied Denmark’s Tom Kristensen a ninth win in the number two Audi. Germany’s Mike Rockenfeller, a winner for Audi in 2010, wrapped up the 1-2-3 when he crossed the line in third place in a non-hybrid car.
Some early mishaps from Audi’s chief rival Toyota, gave the two R18 e-tron quattro diesel-hybrids and the two conventionally diesel-powered R18s an edge in the race with the German brand occupying positions one (R18 e-tron), two (R18 e-tron), three (R18 Ultra) and five (R18 Ultra).
By achieving this further success at the world’s most important endurance race our engineers demonstrated their high technological expertise in a particularly impressive way, With the e-tron quattro in combination with ultra-lightweight design, we put a completely new technology on the grid and immediately won with it – this cannot be taken for granted by any means, particularly here at Le Mans. - Audi board member Rupert Stadler.
Audi overcame a scare with three hours to go when British driver Allan McNish slid the No. 2 Audi into the barriers at the Porsche Curves only moments after Spaniard Marc Gene plunged his non-hybrid Audi off-course at the first chicane. McNish’s car was quickly back on track, with the Scot handing over to Kristensen, but Gene’s No. 3 car lost 20 minutes and finished in fifth place with Frenchman Loic Duval at the wheel. Frenchman Nicolas Prost, son of four-time Formula One champion Alain, split the Audis by claiming fourth place for Rebellion Racing’s Toyota-powered Lola B12.
Scotland’s Peter Dumbreck and former Formula One drivers David Brabham and Karun Chandhok, the first Indian to race at Le Mans, finished a strong sixth in the JRM team’s HPD ARX 03a. Toyota saw its challenge fade overnight. Toyota had snatched the lead after five hours of intense racing but the excitement turned to horror when Anthony Davidson suffered a spectacular crash. The Briton’s Toyota tagged a Ferrari and took off, twisting 360 degrees in the air before plunging into the barriers at Mulsanne Corner. Davidson, who clambered out of the car before gesticulating for help from the medical team, will stay in hospital until Wednesday after fracturing two vertebrae in the incident.