One hour and 20 minutes before the end of the 6 Hours of Silverstone, Audi's Allan McNish set the fastest lap of the race just before he overtook his team-mate Benoit Treluyer to take the lead that had bounced back and forth between the two Audi cars.
Hoping for his fourth win in the race, the Scottish driver pitted with little more than an hour to go, handing his team-mate the lead of the race again. The tight battle that the two Audis had waged for the previous five hours would lead to a thrilling final 60 minutes after Treluyer had a small off that halved his 10-second lead with McNish charging.
The Scot was ending the race as he had started, setting a blistering pace that took him into the lead in the first 11 minutes after he had started from third on the grid.
The 6 Hours of Silverstone was the opening round of the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship and marked a return to the Northamptonshire circuit where just six months earlier the inaugural Championship had ended with Audi winning the manufacturer's crown and its car #1 drivers Marcel Fassler, Benoit Treluyer and Andre Lotterer the drivers'title.
McNish, renowned for his all-out assaults, took the race to a Toyota team that was starting its first full season in the WEC and which was expected to provide stern challenge to Audi in the Championship race and also for the ultimate prize, the Le Mans 24 Hours in two months' time.
However, the Japanese marque was never really in the hunt with both hybrid cars off the pace and unable to mount a realistic challenge to Audi which won its fifth 6 Hours of Silverstone. McNish, Kristensen and Duval were also presented with the coveted Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy which was awarded to the winners of a sports-protoype race for the first time.
Once he taken the lead soon after the start, McNish pulled away from the Toyotas, followed by Treluyer, who had started in fifth. Some rain showers soon forced the race to slow with some cars, including the #7 Toyota, pitting for intermediate tyres.
The strong breeze at Silverstone soon blew the rain clouds away though, forcing Toyota to pit again for slicks and leaving them some distance off the leaders. Although they maintained their pace, they were not able to make any great impression on the leader and the Davidson/Sarrazin/Buemi car finished the race a lap down on the winners.
After Treluyer had his off in the final hour, McNish followed suit on lap 175 and lost time but took the lead again when Treluyer pitted. The Frenchman reclaimed it when McNish also pitted for fuel and a new set of tyres. With Treluyer not changing his rubber at his final stop, the Scot set about closing down the #1 car's lead.
His tyre change paid off and with 10 minutes to go he was within two seconds of Treluyer in spite of having to fight his way through traffic. A few minutes later he was just 0.756s behind and he squeezed past the #1 Audi on lap 194 with less than three minutes on the clock remaining.
Treluyer wasn't finished though and pushed to the end but it was McNish who took the chequered flag to his obvious delight.
"It was a thrilling race from start to finish," an exhausted-looking McNish said afterwards.
"It was nip and tuck all the way, we knew it was going to be decided by seconds."
Kristensen and Duval praised McNish's efforts, the Frenchman lauding his team-mate for "being on fire all weekend" while Kristensen said: "It was a remarkable drive by Allan and it showed his strength. It was a perfect afternoon."
Both GTE classes were dominated by Aston Martin. Celebrating its centenary this year, the marque got the WEC season off to a perfect start with victory from Darren Turner, Stefan Mucke and Formula 1 refugee Bruno Senna in GTE Pro and Kristian Poulsen, Allan Simonsen and Christoffer Nygaard in GTE AM. Both winning teams were racing Vantage V8's.
LMP2 honours went to the Delta-ADR team and their Oreca 03-Nissan, driven by Tor Graves, Antonio Pizzonia and James Walker.
The second round of the WEC is in three weeks at Spa (4 May 2013).