Peter Anderson | Jun 19, 2012

Audi's R18 e-tron and Ultra prototypes have taken the top three places in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The #1 car of Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler gave a repeat performance of their 2011 win in the 80th running of the endurance classic. Starting from pole, the #1 crew had an eventful 24 hours of racing.

The German carmaker had to fight off a determined early challenge from the speedy Toyota TS030s. Audi allowed their drivers to fight each other as well as the Toyotas, ensuring the pace was kept at a high level to keep the Japanese company at bay.

Audi had troubles with minor technical glitches to the #2, #3 and #4 cars; all visited the pits for precautionary checks, but returned to the track without losing too much time.

A Toyota took the lead from the #1 Audi in the sixth hour after a thrilling battle, only to have the race neutralised by the crash of the sister Toyota, the #8.

Anthony Davidson survived the gigantic accident at the Mulsanne chicane after being pitched into the air by a GT class Ferrari turning in on the much faster LMP1 car.

Davidson flipped and twisted in the air before landing on the three remaining wheels and crashing heavily into the tyres and guardrail. He was extricated from the wreckage and was later walking around, but was taken to hospital with two fractured vertebrae.

The Ferrari ended up on its roof but the driver emerged unaided despite also suffering a very solid impact with the tyres.

The field circulated behind the safety car while the fencing and tyre walls were repaired.

The second Toyota's chances effectively ended when Kazuki Nakajima shoved the experimental Nissan DeltaWing out of the way on the restart, destroying the rear end of the black Nissan and also damaging the Toyota's rear end.

The second Toyota suffered an engine failure in the night to complete Toyota's misery.

The night portion of the race went smoothly for the untroubled Audis until the #1 was sent into the wall at the Porsche Curves by Fassler.

The resulting damage was - amazingly - repaired during scheduled pit stops. Fassler later had a run-in with a Corvette, causing yet more damage.

The #2 was comfortably in the lead as a result. Endurance veteran Alan McNish, however, put the race back into the #1 car's hands when coming to grief trying to pass a GTE car two hours from the finish.

"This was a race of the kind you can arguably experience only at Le Mans, Audi motorsport chief Wolfang Ullrich said.

"You should never rejoice too early at Le Mans, which was obvious again at noon," he added, referring to McNish's crash.

The Audis crossed the line one, two and three, with a lap or two between each. The fourth Audi which had endured several scrapes with the barriers at the hands of Marc Gene and Romain Dumas, came home fourth.

Toyota team boss Pascal Vasselon played down speculation that the team had gone for early glory in a car unlikely to win.

"We were not looking for an aggressive start and leading for 10 minutes. I know some people were expecting us to try to do that at the start, but no," he told Autosport.

Audi's win makes it the first for a hybrid at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and welcomes a new era for the sport with the arrival of Toyota.

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