LE MANS, France — Audi defended its Le Mans 24 Hours endurance title Sunday with Germany’s Andre Lotterer taking the checkered flag for the second year in a row in a 1-2-3 finish for the dominant manufacturer.
Audi’s 11th win in the last 13 years was a first for a diesel-hybrid car at the Sarthe circuit. They won last year with a diesel engine.
The No. 1 Audi 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 No. 2 car.
Germany’s Mike Rockenfeller, a winner for Audi in 2010, wrapped up a sweep of the podium places as he crossed the line in third place in the non-hybrid Audi ultra.
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 into the tires 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.
Audi’s works rival Toyota saw its challenge fade overnight.
It had snatched the lead after five hours of intense racing but its excitement turned to horror when Anthony Davidson, racing in one of the hybrid Toyotas, suffered a spectacular crash.
The Briton’s car tagged a Ferrari and took off, twisting 360 degrees in the air before plunging into the tire barriers at Mulsanne Corner.
Davidson, who clambered out of the car before gesticulating for help from the medical team, will stay in hospital until Monday after fracturing two vertebrae in the incident.
“Well that was a big one! Feeling a bit sore today, but generally happy to be alive,” the 33-year-old, whose injuries are expected to take three months to heal, said on Twitter.
Toyota later had to retire its second car when the engine failed.
The 80th edition of the race saw 35 drivers finish. — Reuters