Following the defeat by Peugeot in 2009, Audi are now bringing the trophy back to Ingolstadt after a convincing triple victory in the Le Mans long-distance classic.
In front of a crowd of 238,850 wildly cheering race fans, Audi driver Timo Bernhard in his R15 TDI plus (No 9) completed 24 hours of continuous driving and 396 laps of the 13.5km circuit on the River Sarthe to cross the finish line ahead of the rest of the field.
Joining him in the celebrations were co-drivers Mike Rockenfeller (of DTM fame) and Eric Dumas. The winners completed 396 laps of the circuit to set a new distance record for the Le Mans 24-hour race. The previous record of 5,335.313 kilometres dates back to the year 1971.
The Audi podium triumph was completed by two further R15s in P2 and P3. Runners-up with a deficit of one lap were Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fässler and André Lotterer. In third place were Dindo Capello, Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen who finished three laps behind the winning Audi.
"After taking third place last year, it was our declared aim to bring the Le Mans trophy back to Ingolstadt and Neckarsulm, and we managed to do this in an impressive way," said Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. "I'm incredibly proud of this squad and sincerely thank the entire team and everyone who has contributed to this achievement."
The last of Audi's bitterest rivals from the Peugeot works team had to drop out of the race two hours before the end. The pursuit staged by Wurz/Gene/Fässler ended in a cloud of blue smoke from the rear of the vehicle and a slow and undignified trundle back to the pit lane. There was only one opponent still taking the fight to Audi by this stage – the No 4 Oreca. But even this last flicker of resistance from Peugeot was extinguished by a technical fault. As with the No 1 and No 2 works cars, the end was spectacular when it came, with smoke and flames belching forth as the car went into Indianapolis Corner. The French had to admit they were beaten 70 minutes before the chequered flag was waved.
Victory in the LMP2 class went to the dominant HPD ARX 01 entered by the Strakka Racing team. After 24 hours out on track, Danny Watts even managed to claim fifth overall ahead of the LMP1 Lola Aston Martin (with James Bond's personal starting number 007 on the side). So Stefan Mücke had to content himself with sixth overall for Aston Martin.
In the GT1 category, only three vehicles managed to go the full distance. Victory was snatched by Gabriele Gardel driving a Saleen S7R for the Larbre Competition team ahead of the Corvette (No 72) of Luc Alphand Adventures and the Aston Martin DBR9 of the Young Driver AMR team. The two best GT2 cars came in ahead of the GT1 class winner. Victory in the GT2 category went to the No 77 Felbernayr Proton ahead of the Ferrari F430 GT entered by Hankook Team Farnbacher. In the final two hours of the race, there were no changes of position in the two GT classes.
Quotes from the winning Audi drivers
"It's incredible! As a child it was always my dream to go to Le Mans. In 2002 I won the GT class, which was already a first step towards my big goal, the overall victory. The fact that I've achieved this so early at the age of 29, I can not yet really realize. It is crazy! It will probably still take one or two days until I really know what we achieved. We had a great race without any problems on the car. The Audi R15 TDI has been running perfectly. Mike (Rockefeller), Romain (Dumas) and I have been pushing right from the start. This has paid off. In the end the fight with the Peugeot was getting tighter. But I am convinced that we would have kept the lead anyway – over the distance we just had the right package."
"This day is hard to describe. I was sure that there was a chance of winning. Even though the chance might have been small. And this weekend was not only about us drivers. I thank the team,the mechanics and engineers who ensured that everything was great. Thanks also to my teammates. We have shared information among us. We had great help in the race. That was very important. The intelligence of the team was remarkable. All worked together, no one made a mistake. This has paid off in the end. Now we have won the cup back, and that was the goal. I am very satisfied."
"It is simply incredible. I am overwhelmed. It was always my big dream, my goal to win Le Mans. At the beginning I had a difficult time at Audi. Now I'm grateful that they had confidence and believed in me. Finally I managed to win, with Timo (Bernhard) and Romain (Dumas). Thank you to everyone. My thanks to Audi, to the Joest team, our crew. Great!"
Overall after 24 of 24 hours:
1st Audi #9 (Rockenfeller/Bernhard/Dumas) 397 laps,
2nd Audi #8 (Lotterer/Fässler/Treluyer),
3rd Audi #7 (Kristensen/Capello/McNish),
4th Oreca #6 (Ayari/Andre/Meyrick),
5th Astin Martin #007 (Primat/Mucke/Fernandez)
LMP2 after 24 of 24 hours:
1st Strakka #42 (Leventis/Watts/Kane),
2nd OAK Racing #35 (Lahaye/Moreau/Charouz),
3rd RML #25 (Newton/Erdos/Wallace),
4thOAK Racing #24 (Nicolet/Yvon/Hein),
5thBruichladdich #41 (Ojjeh/Greaves/Chalandon),
6th Performance #28 (Bruneau/Rostan/Meichtry)
LMGT1 after 24 of 24 hours:
1st Saleen #50 (Berville/Canal/Gardel),
2nd Corvette #72 (Gregoire/Policand/Hart),
3rd Aston Martin #52 (Nygaard/Enge/Kox)
LMGT2 after 24 of 24 hours:
1st Porsche #77 (Lieb/Lietz/Henzler),
2nd Ferrari #89 (Farnbacher/Simonsen/Keen),
3rd Porsche #97 (Westbrook/Holzer/Scheider),
4th Ferrari #95 (Fisichella/Alesi/Vilander),
5th Porsche #76 (Narac/Pilet/Long),
6th BMW Motorsport #78 (Müller/Alzen/Farfus)