Audi wins 24 Hours of Le Mans

The Audi R18 TDI No. 2, driven by Benoit Treluyer of France, Andre Lotterer of Germany and Marcel Fassler of Switzerland, is seen in action during the 79th 24-hour Le Mans endurance race, in Le Mans, France, Saturday, June 11, 2011.
AP Photo/Vincent Michel

LE MANS, France — Audi overcame two crashes to hold off pressure from a charging Peugeot and win the 24 Hours of Le Mans on Sunday.

Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer drove the Audi No. 2 to victory, giving the German manufacturer a 10th title at Le Mans.

Audi moved into sole possession of second place for most victories at the world's most famous endurance race. Porsche holds the record with 16 titles. Ferrari dropped to third with nine.

Audi No. 2 completed 355 laps in 24 hours, leading the Peugeot No. 9 driven by Simon Pagenaud, Pedro Lamy and Sebastien Bourdais by 13.854 seconds.

"It's absolutely fantastic to win like this," Treluyer said. "You need good opponents to have a great victory. With Peugeot, we had rivals who were really strong."

Stephane Sarrazin, Franck Montagny and Nicolas Minassian finished third in their Peugeot No. 8, two laps back.

Peugeot No. 7 driven by Marc Gene, Anthony Davidson and Alexander Wurz came in fourth, four laps off the pace.

Audi took the top three spots last year with its R15 model, while no Peugeot was able to finish the race. The German manufacturer has enjoyed a successful transition at Le Mans with its new R18 model.

"Last year, we had some problems with the car in terms of speed," Treluyer told France 2 television. "We had a very reliable car (...) but we lacked a bit of speed. The goal this year was to get a faster car without losing reliability. And we made it."

The Peugeots No. 7 and No. 9 had overtaken the Audi No. 2 overnight but crashes of the Lola-Toyota No. 13 and Ferrari No. 59 brought out the safety car in the 15th and 16th hours and helped the Audi make up ground.

In the 19th hour, Lotterer clocked the fastest lap in 3 minutes, 25.289 seconds on the 13.6-kilometer circuit to build a significant lead.

Audi No. 2 managed to adapt to changing conditions when rain started in the 21st hour, forcing drivers to switch tires.

Peugeot No. 9 was slower than Audi No. 2, but the French manufacturer had a strategy based around the lower fuel consumption of its cars.

Although Peugeot No. 9 made only 28 pit stops compared to 31 for the Audi No. 2, the speed differential was significant enough to give victory to the German manufacturer.

Lotterer and Pagenaud made their last pit stops at the same time, but Audi No. 2 came out of the pits ahead of Peugeot No. 9 to keep the lead.

"We were beaten by a competitor stronger than us," Bourdais told the event's website. "Audi has developed a highly reliable and fast car. We chose to work on reliability. The objective is met, but we missed by 13 seconds at the finish."

Audi No. 2 was under heavy pressure from three Peugeots throughout Sunday as Audi's chances of defending its title came to rest on just one car after two crashed out Saturday.

Defending champion Mike Rockenfeller was in second place in the eighth hour when he tried to pass the slower Ferrari No. 71 driven by Robert Kauffman.

Rockenfeller's Audi No. 1 was bumped by the Ferrari and slid off the track in darkness to smash into a guardrail, forcing the deployment of the safety car for the second time in the race.

The German driver was able to get out of the cockpit on his own before the wrecked car caught fire. He picked up cuts and grazes in the incident but was otherwise unhurt.

Audi also lost a car when Allan McNish's Audi No. 3 collided with a Ferrari barely 50 minutes after the start.

McNish, in second place, was attempting to overtake the slower Ferrari No. 58 driven by Anthony Beltoise — who was trailing by two laps — when the cars came together resulting in the Audi crashing against a tire wall and disintegrating.

The spectacular crash brought out the safety car to allow crews to clear the debris.

McNish was unhurt and walked away from the crash. The Scottish driver was taken to a medical center as a precaution and then to a hospital for more checks.

"There are unfortunately those two racing incidents that have dealt a blow to Audi," Treluyer said. "I spare a thought for (Rockenfeller) who is at the hospital. I'm really sorry for him. I really wish he could be here. All the drivers took part in the development of the car. So it's a victory of the whole team and not just our victory."

Olivier Beretta, Tommy Milner and Antonio Garcia completed 314 laps to finish 11th overall in their Corvette No. 73, but first in the GTE class.

A total of 56 cars started the 79th edition of the French endurance race, but 28 did not finish.