Despite strong challenges from Toyota and Porsche, which both showed the upper hand at key points throughout the incident-filled race, Audi persevered to claim a surprise 1-2 finish in the 82nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Benoit Treluyer took the No. 2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro to the checkered flag ahead of the sister No. 1 car of Tom Kristensen, with both diesel-powered LMP1-H cars remarkably overcoming turbo failures in what turned into a race of attrition for the new-for-2014 prototypes.
The No. 2 Audi was set up for a thrilling conclusion with the debuting Porsche LMP1 squad of Mark Webber, but the ex-F1 star’s No. 20 Porsche 919 Hybrid slowed on track with an engine issue with less than two hours to go.
With multiple delays for the sister No. 14 Porsche and issues for both of the Toyotas, it gave clear sailing to Audi, which celebrated its 13th overall crown in the twice-around-the-clock French endurance classic.
Treluyer and co-drivers Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler, meanwhile, secured their third Le Mans win in the last four years (2011, 2012).
It came despite a 23-minute turbo change in the 16th hour that put the No. 2 Audi more than five laps back. Lotterer moved into second place with less than four hours to go following drama for its sister No. 1 car, which was also forced to the garage for a turbo change.
As a result, Le Mans legend Kristensen, who was seeking his record 10th overall win, settled for second alongside co-drivers Lucas di Grassi and late substitute Marc Gene.
Gene, Audi’s reserve driver, who was slated to race with Jota Sport in LMP2, replaced Loic Duval following the Frenchman’s massive accident in Wednesday’s practice that required Audi to build up an entire new car overnight. Aside from the turbo issues, a fuel injector was changed in the 16th hour.
Porsche, meanwhile, saw both cars suffer mechanical-related issues, although the No. 14 car made it back out in the final 10 minutes but was not classified in the end. Because of the Porsche drama, the No. 8 Toyota TS040 Hybrid of Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Nicolas Lapierre landed an unlikely podium finish.
The FIA World Endurance Championship points-leading Toyota was involved in a multi-car accident on the Mulsanne Straight during a sudden downpour in the second hour, which took out the No. 3 Audi.
Lapierre limped the car back to the garage for repairs, which proved to be a pivotal point of the race.
The Japanese manufacturer’s No. 7 entry, meanwhile, looked to be the dominant force, as the pole-sitting machine of Kazuki Nakajima, Stephane Sarrazin and Alex Wurz led through the night but stopped on track at 5 a.m. with electrical issues.
While Rebellion Racing’s No. 13 LMP1-L retired early with engine failure, the Anglo-Swiss squad’s No. 12 Rebellion R-One Toyota of Nicolas Prost, Nick Heidfeld and Mathias Beche finished an impressive fourth overall, aided by the late-race retirements from the two Porsches.
Remarkably, only four of the nine LMP1s were classified in the end, in what proved to be one of the most unpredictable races in recent memory for the top prototype category.
Jota Sport captured the LMP2 class victory in a roller-coaster and eventful day for the second-tier prototype category.
The No. 38 Zytek Z11SN Nissan, driven by race debutante Harry Tincknell and team veterans Simon Dolan and Oliver Turvey, held on to for the win in the venerable, veteran chassis over the impressive and debuting Ligier JS P2 Nissan in the hands of the Thiriet by TDS Racing team.
Jota’s No. 38 needed a late splash of fuel in the last 15 minutes, which reduced the gap to the Ligier, but still hung on.
The win is the first at Le Mans for each of the three. Turvey was a last-minute fill-in when Audi reserve Marc Gene was called up there to replace the injured Loic Duval aboard the No. 1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro.
Thiriet’s trio of Pierre Thiriet, Ludovic Badey and class pole-sitter Tristan Gommendy ended a hard-luck second in the No. 46 after a race that included two brief moments that nearly took them out of contention.
A left-front wishbone failure with four hours to go cost the team five minutes to repair the suspension, and a second unscheduled stop with just over three hours remaining added more unplanned time to their race.
Owing both to consistency an outright pace, the No. 36 Signatech Alpine A450 Nissan took the final class podium position with the trio of Nelson Panciatici, Paul-Loup Chatin and Oliver Webb. Chatin, in particular, impressed during his stints when most of the Silver-rated drivers were aboard the LMP2 machinery.
The Thiriet Ligier and the No. 35 OAK Racing Ligier JS P2 Nissan, however, were the star cars of the race in LMP2.
OAK’s No. 35 entry, driven by Alex Brundle and Nissan GT Academy graduates Jann Mardenborough and Mark Shulzhitskiy, led a majority of the race but fell victim to several mechanical gremlins in the final few hours.
Engine-related issues struck with five hours to go, and Mardenborough had to go to the garage from the lead. It took nine minutes for the stop to diagnose the problem and replace the rear brakes.
Although Brundle took over the car and regained the lead once the Thiriet car had issues, poor luck struck again with an hour and 45 minutes to go with a misfire in the engine. Down on power from an apparent spark plug issue, the No. 35 car had to limp back to the pits.
OAK’s No. 35 car ended fourth, just off the podium, with the No. 24 Sebastien Loeb Racing Oreca 03 Nissan completing the top five (Rene Rast, Jan Charouz, Vincent Capillaire)
AF Corse (GTE-Pro) and Aston Martin Racing (GTE-Am) controlled the GTE classes.
For the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia of Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella, it’s their second win as a group after they also scored the class win in 2012.
The No. 51 had a trouble-free race, but also survived a series of fights for the lead throughout the middle portion of the race with both Aston Martin and Corvette.
The No. 97 Aston Martin Vantage put up the biggest fight, with Darren Turner putting up several passes for the lead and Bruno Senna fighting tooth-and-nail with Bruni in the 18th and 19th hours.
But the Aston’s charge was thwarted in the 19th hour with power steering fluid pipe failure, and the car spent more than 20 minutes behind the wall. A further off-course excursion by Turner in the 21st hour and a trip to the garage in the 23rd spoiled any podium hopes, and left the Aston sixth in GTE-Pro.
Corvette Racing moved into second with 75 minutes remaining when the No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR, which had otherwise ran a trouble-free race pitted and took the hood off to make a quick adjustment.
The No. 73 Corvette C7.R of “Kevin’s dad” Jan Magnussen, new father Antonio Garcia and soon-to-be mullet retiree Jordan Taylor held the spot for the remainder of the race.
The No. 73 pressed on despite losing nearly two laps in the pits to fix a broken valve stem on the car’s air jacks. Taylor closed nearly 30 seconds in the 21st hour on the No. 92 Porsche for second in his last stint, in an impressive performance.
Porsche’s No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR with Frederic Makowiecki, Marco Holzer and Richard Lietz driving ran second for most of the race, albeit one where they avoided disaster on two separate occasions.
The car had a birds-eye view of the No. 3 Audi, No. 8 Toyota and No. 81 AF Corse Ferrari accident on the Mulsanne in the rain-drenched second hour of the race, and also avoided a spinning Team Taisan Ferrari at Indianapolis Sunday morning. Their luck ran out with the aforementioned long pit stop, and that dropped them to third.
The second Corvette, the No. 74 driven by Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Richard Westbrook, lost eight laps due to a slipped alternator belt and gearbox leak. The No. 74 ended fifth behind the No. 97 Aston Martin.
Jeroen Bleekemolen and Cooper MacNeil turned in an ironman performance in the reclassified GTE-Pro No. 79 ProSpeed Competition Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, running the entire 24 hours by themselves and ending a valiant fifth.
Bleekemolen limped the car back home to the pits despite two left rear punctures.
In GTE-Am, Aston Martin Racing controlled the race from start-to-finish with both its No. 98 and No. 95 entries, but poignantly, it was the No. 95 that took the class victory with the Young Driver AMR all-Danish driver entry a year after Allan Simonsen’s fatal accident.
Nicki Thiim, David Heinemeier Hansson and Kristian Poulsen drove a consistent, clean, trouble-free race. There were two near scares when Poulsen briefly stopped on track in the 23rd hour exiting the pit lane and had a 6-minute plus lap, and later had a garage trip that meant an 8-minute plus lap. But the car ultimately won by two laps in class.
For Thiim and DHH it’s their first Le Mans victories and for Poulsen, it’s his second to add to a 2009 LMP2 class win a Porsche RS Spyder.
Any of five other cars were in contention for the remaining podium positions, but when all was said and done it was the No. 88 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR and No. 61 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia that completed the top three.
Proton’s trio of Christian Ried, Klaus Bachler and Khalid al Qubaisi ran a largely trouble-free race. The No. 61 car of Luis Perez-Companc, Marco Cioci and Mirko Venturi had several minor off-course excursions, but none were serious enough to dent their podium hopes.
The three American-entered teams in class, 8Star Motorsports, Dempsey Racing-Proton and Krohn Racing, all fell short of the class podium but put in valiant efforts nonetheless.
8Star’s No. 90 of Frankie Montecalvo, Paolo Ruberti and Gianluca Roda survived puncture and clutch issues to finish fourth; the all-American trio of Patricks Long and Dempsey with Joe Foster came home fifth despite a three-minute stop-and-hold penalty for spinning their tires in the pits and a brief garage trip.
The ACO announced a weekend attendance of 262,000 people, the largest crowd since 1989.24 Hours of Le Mans, Le Mans, Sports Cars