“This is no doubt a historic victory for Audi. We were the first to win Le Mans with a direct-injection turbo gasoline engine and the first to be successful with a diesel engine. It's a great result that Audi is now the first brand to have achieved victory with a hybrid vehicle – and right on the first run.”
That was the outlook of Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich after Andre Lotterer had led home a 1-2 finish for the Ingolstadt marque's R18 e-tron quattro hybrids at Le Mans, the sister car of Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Dindo Capello following in second place.
The winning team – Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler – ran a near faultless race to win for the second consecutive year. During the course of the 24 hours the trio had to withstand a challenge from new rivals Toyota and fight off their Audi teammates in a battle that only ended when a crash in the Porsche Curves knocked McNish and #2 squad from the lead lap.
“Despite a few problems we were in contention for victory up to my accident,” said the Scot. “I caught a slower GT vehicle in the Porsche corners and expected the driver to stay on the right-hand side. But he didn't. I haven't got a clue why. I spun and crashed into the guard rail with the right front. That damaged the front bodywork and the suspension – the necessary repair cost us two laps. That was a very, very big disappointment.”
McNish was not the only Audi driver to make a costly misjudgment. Romain Dumas and Marc Gene both went off in the #3 car at the first Mulsanne chicane, doing almost identical damage to the front of the R18 ultra. Gene's off came after Loic Duval had hauled the #3 back into fourth place but the time lost to repairs – though minimal – was enough to prevent a Audi 1-2-3-4 finish.
“It was a very difficult race for us,” said Gene, who was drafted into the Audi line-up in lace of Timo Bernhard. “We lost ground due to a puncture early on. We kept on battling afterwards but Romain and I both had an accident which cost us time again. But the mechanics did a great job of performing the necessary repairs. The most important thing, though, is that Audi managed a one-two-three win. I'm happy that I drove a large number of laps and learned a lot that I'll be able to benefit from next year.”
Behind the two hybrids Mike Rockenfeller, Oliver Jarvis and Le Mans debutant Marco Bonanomi completed the podium, despite problems of their own as Jarvis described; “there were phases when I'd have never believed that we'd be able to make it on podium. We were running very fast for a few hours and then our car suddenly stopped on track. That's when I thought 'it's all over now.' But the team not only worked hard in that case and we were able to continue. I want to thank the guys; they did an outstanding job. We owe the podium to them. This has made a dream come true for me.”
But for Lotterer, Fassler and Treluyer, save for two minor moments it was perfect race.
“This was an incredible race,” Fassler reflected. “There were so many highs and low – especially for me. I had a great team. The mechanics gave everything after the accident to repair the car as quickly as possible. As always, my driver colleagues did a fantastic job too. For Audi, this is a great day. Clinching not just victory but a one-two result with the new technology of the e-tron quattro is a brilliant feat.”