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.
The ACO announced a weekend attendance of 263,300 people, the largest crowd since 1989.
RESULTS: 24 Hours of Le Mans