The only driver of the leaders to extend his stay in the car into a third stint, Benoit Treluyer, holds the lead for Audi Motorsport in the no.2 R18 that started the race from pole position.

The field returned to racing shortly after 5pm local time (4pm UK) after over an hour behind the safety car and the two surviving Audis began to pull away straight away, once more easily showing they have the measure of the rival Peugeots.

The third hour of the race included two pitstops for the leaders, and though Treluyer was leading he surrendered the lead to Timo Bernhard as the pair entered pitlane, the German keeping his lead to keep Treluyer in second place.

However, Bernhard had a brief off in the lead, damaging the nose of the no.1 Audi. Treluyer retook first position, driving past his Audi teammate on the Mulsanne Straight, but soon after Alex Wurz moved the no.7 car into second – the first time a Peugeot had passed an Audi on track since the opening corners of the race.

A second flurry of stops saw Bernhard hand over the no.1 to Romain Dumas while the Joest run team replaced the nose on the R18. Treluyer followed him in, but both driver and two and a half hour old Michelin tyres remained attached the car.

Wurz briefly led – the first time a 908 had led thanks to the better fuel economy the French cars seem to have – before he too pitted shortly before the end of the hour, handing the car over to Anthony Davidson and the lead back to Treluyer with a healthy lead.

LMP2 continues to be led by the ORECA 03 of ORECA Matmut, with Strakka up to second and the Pecom Racing open top Lola third. The no.49 OAK Racing car was one of an ever increasing list of competitors to pick up a puncture, Shinji Nakano forced to trundle back to the pits, shedding time, but happily causing little damage to the Pescarolo chassis.

That list also includes the GTEPro Flying Lizard Motorsport Porsche and the no.58 Luxury Racing Ferrari. The car which had gone off with Allan McNish earlier returned to the track, but was reduced to a crawl with a right-rear puncture.

Untroubled the no.74 Corvette continues to lead GTEPro ahead of the two BMW M3. While the Corvette remained at the top of the class throughout the hour second place had a number of incumbents including the other other Luxury Racing Ferrari, in the hands of Jaime Melo and Nick Tandy in the no.88 Felbermayr-Proton Porsche – the highest place held by a Porsche so far during the race after a difficult build-up to the race.

2011 24 Hours of Le Mans standings after three hours

LMP1
No.2 – Audi Sport Team Joest – Fassler/Lotterer/Treluyer
No.7 – Peugeot Sport Total – Davidson/Gene/Wurz
No.9 – Team Peugeot Total – Bourdais/Pagenaud/Lamy

LMP2
No.48 – Team ORECA Matmut – Hallyday/Kraihamer/Premat
No.42 – Strakka Racing – Leventis/Kane/Watts
No.39 – Pecom Racing – Perez Companc/Kaffer/Russo

GTEPro
No.74 – Corvette Racing – Gavin/Magnussen/Westbrook
No.55 – BMW Motorsport – Farfus/Muller/Werner
No.56 – BMW Motorsport – Hand/Muller/Priaulx

GTEAm
No.60 – Gulf AMR Middle East – Giroux/Goethe/Wainwright
No.61 – AF Corse – Breslin/Cioci/Perazzini
No.63 – Proton Competition – Felbermayr Jr/Felbermayr Sr/Reid