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Audi e-tron quattro Goes 1-2 At Le Mans 24 Hour
Perhaps it wasn't the competitive 24-hour race in the top, LMP1 class that both Audi and Toyota - and fans of the sport - had been hoping for, but the 80th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans on the 8.5-mile Sarthe Circuit changed the way endurance racing's premier prototype class will be run from here on out.
With their Audi R18 e-tron quattro coupes earning the top two spots, the now 11-time Le Mans winners took victory with two hybrid machines that achieved excellent power, superb chassis balance and managed to stay out of the pits more than any other machines in their class.
The victory went to the reigning, now two-time champions Fassler/Lotterer/Treyluter in the No. 1 over Capello (it was his 48th birthday on Sunday)/Kristensen/McNish trio in the second, No. 2 e-tron quattro by a full lap, with Bonanomi/Jarvis/Rockenfeller third in the No. 4 R18 TDI Ultra. The Rebellion Racing Lola/Toyota petrol car of Heidfeld/Jani/Prost was fifth and nine laps back of the winners. The final Audi R18 Ultra finished fifth after several incidents marred its progress.
The winning car, nicknamed "Electra" didn't have an easy go as Marcel Fassler impacted the barriers twice in the closing stages; Benoit Treluyer fought a cold the entire time after participating in the wet Friday night parade.
"This was a race of the kind you can arguably experience only at Le Mans," said Wolfgang Ullrich, Audi motorsports chief. "You should never rejoice too early at Le Mans, which was obvious again, especially on Sunday noon," when the quicker No. 2 e-tron quattro driven by Allan McNish crashed while in the lead.
"The whole world was already talking about a one-two-three-four victory and all of a sudden two of our cars had accidents almost simultaneously. I can only take my hat off to the entire squad of Audi Sport that worked extremely hard for a year to make this triumph possible," Ullrich said. That these two hybrid machines had few if any mechanical difficulties - neither did the Toyota pair - bodes well for the sport and perception of hybrid abilities.
The Toyota challenge evaporated early with crashes by both cars, with the No. 8 TS030 hybrid going out early in a massive crash that injured driver Anthony Davidson's T11 and T12 vertebrae - and of course wrote off the cartwheeling car. The second No. 7 TS030 made contact with the DeltaWing on the restart following Davidson's crash and that took out both cars before nightfall, leaving the four Audi prototypes - two e-tron quattro's and two TDI Ultra coupes to fight among themselves.
American entrant Starworks Motorsports won LMP2 - Anne Proffit photo
More than 240,000 spectators, a slight dip from the 249,500 that witnessed last year's ultra-competitive battle between Audi and Peugeot (won by the former), still had plenty to watch. The American No. 44 Starworks Motorsport brought Honda a win in the production-based LMP2 prototype class, seventh overall for Dalziel/Kimber/Smith/Potolicchio in their HPD ARX-03b, completing 354 laps. This was Honda's third trip to Le Mans and its second victory, after Strakka Racing accomplished the LMP2 win on debut in 2010.
"I believe Starworks has confirmed their status as a world-class racing team; their effort both here at Le Mans and earlier this year at Sebring is a real testament to [team owner' Peter Baron's dedication and ability," said Steve Eriksen, vice president, Honda Performance Development. "We are proud to ave them as a partner. Congratulations to all our teams for their efforts and to everyone at HPD and our technical partner Wirth Research on our second LMP2 victory in just three starts. We're already looking forward to defending our win here next year."
Victory in the highly contested GTE Pro class went to Ferrari - and to the No. 51 AF Corse 458 Italia that crashed in initial practice/qualifying on Wednesday and barely made laps in the two Thursday sessions, battling from rear to front with former Formula 1 driver Giancarlo Fisichello continuing to nurse an injured hand throughout the twice-around-the-clock classic. The win occurred exactly fifty years after the iconic marque's GTO model scored a double win in the GT class; the 2012 victory included Fisichella, countryman Gianmaria Bruni and Finn Toni Vildander.
GTE Am honors went to the French Corvette C6.R of Labre Competition, who narrowly beat the IMSA Performance Porsche after the German car had a late puncture that forced it to the pits.
While weather woes punctuated the competition up until race day, and caused huge problems for the popular parade in the center of Le Mans on Friday evening, there were just a few sprinkles after the 3PM start of the race and it was clear and lovely through to the finish. Temperatures were balmy, occasional cloud cover kept the crowd happy and the crews from getting too hot.
And so another great Le Mans is in the books and the World Endurance Championship, now led by the Le Mans winners continues on at Silverstone next month.
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