Audi battles to Le Mans triumph

Despite two crashes, team Audi claim victory in the world's oldest endurance race at Le Mans

      Fassler, Lotterer and Treluyer celebrate on their Audi R18 TDI No 2 following an action-packed Le Mans race [AFP]

    German racer Andre Lotterer crossed the chequered flag to give Audi victory in a gripping Le Mans 24 Hours race on Sunday.

    The Peugeot 908 driven by France's Simon Pagenaud crossed the line in second, with the French car manufacturer also filling third, fourth and fifth places.

    Lotterer shared driving responsibilities in the winning Audi R18, which edged the 79th edition by a mere 13.854 seconds, with Frenchman Benoit Treluyer and Switzerland's Marcel Fassler.

    For all three drivers this was a first win in the iconic endurance test, while for Audi it was a 10th win out of the last 12 races.

    The win was all the more memorable after Audi suffered the twin disaster of their two other cars crashing out spectacularly in the opening hours of the race on Saturday.

    First to go was the R18 driven by Scotland's two-time winner Allan McNish, who miraculously walked away from the wreckage of his car after a high speed accident less than an hour after the start.

    McNish's team-mate and last year's winner Mike Rockenfeller was next to bow out after his car touched a backmarker and speared into the barriers.

    Lucky survivors

    Despite the carnage, Audi's lone survivor held the lead and kept the chasing Peugeot pack at bay.

    "This was the toughest win of all, it was very tight from the beginning, then losing two cars with horror crashes, we're lucky both drivers are with us and are fine," said Audi chief Wolfgang Ullrich.

    "Our emotions have ranged from the top of the mountain down to the deepest caves."

    As dawn rose on the Circuit de la Sarthe, the Peugeot of Alex Wurz was lying second but his chances of winning were scuppered when he slid off at Indianapolis, rejoining the action after a pit stop four laps adrift.

    "This was the toughest win of all...Our emotions have ranged from the top of the mountain down to the deepest caves"

    Audi chief Wolfgang Ullrich

    Wurz's car was to eventually take fourth.

    With just 35 minutes to go, the tension in the Audi pits was palpable before their car came in for its final tyre change.

    It sped out back onto the circuit with a mere seven-second cushion on the chasing Peugeot, which had pitted at the same time - the Audi mechanics high-fiving and back-slapping at a job well done.

    Only unscripted disaster could now deprive Audi of a famous victory, and Lotterer avoided any mishaps to cross the line in front after 355 laps of tense racing.

    Locally born Treluyer, who had handed the wheel to Lotterer a couple of hours before the finish, was delighted to win such a demanding race.

    "That was a great job by everyone, it was a true team win. It's difficult to appreciate what we've achieved," said Treluyer.

    "It was a very hard race, that makes the win even better."



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