Audi wins Le Mans
German manufacturer defeats Peugeot despite losing two cars in massive crashes
Last Updated: 12/06/11 7:43pm
Audi triumph: The winning R18 TDI of Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer
Audi overcame potential disaster to score a thrilling triumph in the Le Mans 24 Hour race on Sunday as drivers Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer fended off the massed challenge of rivals Peugeot.
Lotterer took the chequered flag at Circuit de la Sarthe in what was the German manufacturer's surviving R18 TDI car - its other two entries having been destroyed in massive crashes on Saturday.
Drivers Allan McNish and Mike Rockenfeller were both lucky to escape virtually unscathed from the high-speed shunts which occurred during the opening eight hours of the classic endurance race.
Having completed 355 laps, the winning car crossed the line just 14 seconds ahead of the number nine Peugeot of Sebastien Bourdais, Simon Pagenaud and Pedro Lamy.
The number eight Peugeot of Stephane Sarrazin, Franck Montagny and Nicolas Minassian completed the podium, with the third factory 908 of Anthony Davidson, Marc Gene and Alex Wurz in fourth place.
However, even though the anticipated battle at the front of the field came to pass, the race will be remembered for the fate of the two Audis that failed to make the finish.
McNish's race came to an end in the first hour when he moved past team-mate Timo Bernhard at the Esses but clipped Anthony Beltoise's slower Ferrari.
His car then cannoned into - and almost cleared - a tyre barrier at 120mph, with nearby photographers scattering in avoidance of flying debris.
Having been freed from the wrecked car, the Scot managed to walk away and although he was taken to hospital for scans, they were precautionary.
Rockenfeller, meanwhile, crashed at about 11pm on Saturday night on the fastest part of the track - the run to Indianapolis corner where cars reach speeds in excess of 200mph.
Like McNish, the German made contact with a slower Ferrari, with his car pitching left into an Armco barrier before spinning down the track.
Rockenfeller, a winner at Le Mans 12 months ago, was able to free himself from the wreck but was kept in hospital overnight as a precaution.
McNish welcomed Audi's win after the race, but was quick to counter the suggestion that a little more patience on his part might have prevented his crash.
Not a risk
"I don't think so to be honest, because from where I was sitting going down the inside of that corner, there was not a risk to get into that corner," he said.
"Anthony said he didn't see me at all, but I kept well to the right-hand side. He had as much vision as possible, I didn't stay in close to him.
"It was a safer solution than trying to squeeze in with Timo and something happening there.
"I think the crash is due to the fact that two into one doesn't go.
"I didn't see it as a risk, I had the momentum, I've made that overtake many, many times before, and I saw many other drivers doing it in the race afterwards.
"You can't blame people in these circumstances.
"It's a part of racing and it's part of Le Mans."
Rockenfeller added: "The safety standards at Audi are simply incredible and have saved my life.
"I've never had such an accident before in my career and hope I'll never have such an experience again."
Both incidents brought out the safety car for long periods, with the number two Audi of Lotterer, Fassler and Treluyer leading at the time of Rockenfeller's crash.
However, Peugeot applied the pressure and hit the front during the pit stops in the 14th hour, when Pagenaud took the lead from Fassler, who in turn was enjoying a good dice with Davidson in the number seven car.
Another safety car period in the 15th hour wiped out Pagenaud's lead, though, allowing Davidson and Fassler to renew rivalries at the front.
The Audi eventually imposed itself on the Peugeot to pull away in the next hour, but with Treluyer at the wheel a fifth safety car period of the race saw the leaders bunch up again.
The number seven Peugeot dropped out of contention in the 19th hour when Wurz crashed out of third place, the Austrian going straight on at Indianapolis and damaging the nose of his car.
Although he was able to recover to the pits, Wurz had lost significant time on the leaders and fell to fourth.
The dice continued during the race's closing hours, with matters becoming a little heated at one stage as the number seven car of Marc Gene tangled with Lotterer as the Audi lapped the Peugeot along the Mulsanne Straight.
Sporadic rain showers also fell during the final three hours, causing a number of accidents.
The number 22 Kronos Lola and the number 10 ORECA Peugeot both went off but the latter was recovered without losing fifth place.
The leader of the LMP2 class, the number 41 Zytek-Nissan, also hit trouble in the wet, getting stuck in the gravel at the Esses, although their category lead was never under threat with their nearest challenger more than 10 laps behind.
However, the remaining Audi was unhindered by the difficult conditions. The battle for the lead was so close that the outcome was not settled until the very last round of pit stops, held with around 35 minutes remaining.
Audi, with around a 35-second lead, gambled on a slower stop to change both fuel and tyres while the number nine Peugeot just took on fuel.
The risk paid off, though, as Lotterer emerged in front before pressing home his advantage on the run to the flag to claim Audi's 10th win in the past 12 years.
Behind the leading LMP1 class, the number 41 Zytek Z11SN-Nissan of Karim Ojjeh, Olivier Lombard and Tom Kimber-Smith took LMP2 honours, while the number 73 Corvette C6.R of Olivier Beretta, Tommy Milner and Antonio Garcia took victory in GTE Pro.
The number 50 Corvette C6.R of Patrick Bornhauser, Julien Canal and Gabriele Gardel won the GTE Am class.