Audi cleans out Pugs at Le Mans
Audi reclaimed the Le Mans 24 Hours crown from Peugeot on Sunday with Germany's Timo Bernhard taking the chequered flag at the wheel of the first R15 car in a 1-2-3 finish at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
Peugeot, who ended Audi's five-year reign last year, were the favourites but paid the price for poor reliability after a strong start.
All three factory diesel-engined 908 cars retired with mechanical failures and the non-works Oreca sister car failed to meet the Audi R15's challenge.
"We didn't believe that we were able to do a 1-2-3. That's for sure," said Briton Allan McNish, whose car crossed the line in third position.
"The speed of Peugeot and the competition and the strength they had was very, very good but Audi reliability, Audi consistency, Audi TDi power ruled the day," added the former winner.
Peugeot had swept the front two rows of the grid in qualifying and held their positions at the start of the race.
The French team suffered a setback after three hours when their pacesetting car, which locally-born ex-Formula One driver Sebastien Bourdais had put on pole, withdrew due to suspension failure.
At daybreak, Peugeot were still in the lead with Frenchman Franck Montagny enjoying a two-lap lead over the first Audi when engine failure forced him to stop on the track side and walk away from his car.
Audi, who had since 2000 won eight editions of the world's oldest sportscar race which started in 1923, were meanwhile playing the long game and survived all the race incidents.
"Le Mans is a very long race," Wolfgang Ullrich, director of the German team, told French media while his three winning drivers, Bernhard, Germany's Mike Rockenfeller and France's Romain Dumas soaked each other in Champagne.
"It's nice smell, a sweet smell," said Bernhard. "I cannot believe it. Since I was a child I have always dreamed about Le Mans. I won a GT class with Porsche in 2002 and my dream was always to win overall," he added.
"We always concentrated on the race. Today proved that our car was bullet-proof for the race. All three cars had no problems and we could run a consistent pace, on the limit."
Denmark's eight-time winner Tom Kristensen, who finished third, paid tribute to the youngsters who were enjoying their first victory.
"Obviously, you need to be young today to be strong but they won it deservedly. They didn't put a foot wrong. They did a splendid job....it's fantastic for Audi to win and we feel very proud," he said.
"I am a part of a winning football team and the goalscorers are always more happy than the rest of the team," he added.
In front of more than 200 000 people, the shock of the race came 20 minutes after the 55 cars had left the grid when former F1 world champion Nigel Mansell crashed at the entrance of the famous 6.2 km Mulsanne straight.
The 56-year-old Briton, competing in a Ginetta Zytek with his sons Greg and Leo, spun and hit the guardrail. He was taken to hospital for checks but escaped without serious injuries. - Reuters