- Le Mans 24 Hours
Audi beats Toyota to Le Mans victory
Audi won the 24 Hours of Le Mans on Sunday with Tom Kristensen taking his ninth victory alongside co-drivers Allan McNish and Loic Duval. However, the celebrations were overshadowed by the death of Aston Martin GTE driver Allan Simonsen following an accident in the early hours of the race.
Audi's closest rivals, Toyota, finished a lap down in second with ex-F1 drivers Anthony Davidson and Sebastien Buemi driving alongside Stephane Sarrazin to give the Japanese manufacturer its best result since returning to Le Mans last year. Audi rounded off the LMP1 podium with Marc Gene, Lucas di Grassi and Oliver Jarvis finishing third in the No.3 Audi.
The No.7 Toyota, driven by Alexander Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima, had been in the running for the final podium place, but in trying to keep pace with Jarvis's Audi in wet conditions, Lapierre crashed into the barriers. Marshals managed to excavate the Toyota from the tyre barrier and Lapierre drove it back to the pits where repairs were carried out before the car returned to the track and finished fourth.
One of the key turning points of the race came seven hours in on Saturday evening when defending champions Benoit Treluyer, Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler in Audi No.1 pulled into the pits from the lead with an alternator problem and lost 12 laps. At the same time Audi No.3 suffered a puncture in the opening part of the lap and dropped down the order too, allowing both Toyotas into the top three. The two wounded Audis were fixed and able to rejoin and, while the No.1 car couldn't return to contention for LMP1 honours it did make its way back up to fifth overall.
The cars then settled into their positions overnight but the threat of rain lingered over the circuit as the sun came up on Sunday morning. In the final hour there was a deluge and Buemi hauled his Toyota back onto the lead lap before backing off again and nursing his car to the line a lap down behind Kristensen. The victory is Audi's 12th as it edges closer to Porsche's record of 17 ahead of Porsche's return to the LMP1 class next year.
The rain in the final hour saw eventual LMP2 winner Bertrand Baguette spin, but the OAK Racing driver managed to gather it all together to win his class alongside team-mates Ricardo Gonzalez and Martin Plowman. In second place was the sister car of Olivier Pla, Alex Brundle and David Heinemeier Hansson while Mike Conway, John Martin and Roman Rusinov took third in their ORECA-Nissan.
The GTE Pro category was won by the factory-run Porsche 911 RSR of Richard Lietz, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas. They were pushed hard for much of the closing section of the race by the Aston Martin Vantage of Stefan Mucke, Darren Turner and Rob Bell. With the support of Simonsen's family, the Aston Martin team had decided to continue to race in honour of their lost driver but fell to third in the pit stops for wet tyres in the final hour. The other factory Porsche of Patrick Pilet, Jorg Bergmeister and Timo Bernhard finished the class second.
The GTE Am class was won by the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Raymond Narac, Christophe Bourret and Jean-Karl Vernay.