LE MANS, France (AP) — Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer overcame turbocharger problems to drive Audi to its 13th title at the 24 Hours of Le Mans on Sunday.
It was the trio's third victory in the world's most famous endurance race. Their Audi No. 2 finished three laps ahead of Audi No. 1 driven by Lucas di Grassi, Marc Gene and defending champion Tom Kristensen.
Audi has now won 10 of the last 11 races at Le Mans, including the last five.
"We did like in 2011," Treluyer told Eurosport. "We stayed calm and attacked when we needed to. Andre (Lotterer) really put the pressure on Porsche at the right time."
Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Nicolas Lapierre took third place at the wheel of Toyota No. 8, five laps off the pace. Pole-sitter Kazuki Nakajima's Toyota No. 7 retired in the 15th hour while leading because of an electrical problem.
"It is heartbreaking," Nakajima told the Toyota Racing website. "Somehow I thought maybe we could make it this time and then this happens. That's Le Mans and that's why we come here to take on the challenge. We will try again."
In its return to Le Mans after a 16-year absence in the top category, Porsche fell out of contention in the 22nd hour.
Audi did not impress in qualifying with slower times than Toyota and Porsche, but it proved more reliable in a race defined by the teams' ability to solve mechanical problems.
Lotterer's Audi No. 2 took the lead in the 22nd hour when Timo Bernhard's Porsche No. 20 got stuck in the pits until the end of the race because of a drivetrain problem.
"It's very sad because we were fighting hard at the end, in fact, also for the victory," Bernhard said. "For sure, it would have been a podium. It's hard to take because the guys did a great job."
In the penultimate hour, Neel Jani's Porsche No. 14 went back to the garage while in fifth place to fix a gearbox issue. It managed to get back on the track in the final minutes, but the return proved meaningless as both Porsche No. 14 and No. 20 were not classified.
Despite its disappointing performance, Porsche still remains the most successful manufacturer at Le Mans with 16 titles.
Porsche and Audi swapped the lead in the second half of the race.
Treluyer's Audi No. 2 took the lead from Nakajima in the 15th hour. Gene's Audi No. 1 then hit the front in the 17th hour when the Audi No. 2 headed back to the garage to change a turbocharger.
"At one stage, we thought it was over," Lotterer said.
Kristensen's Audi No. 1 was also hit by a turbocharger problem in the 21st hour and surrendered the top spot to Bernhard's Porsche No. 20 in the 21st hour.
Chasing its first win at Le Mans, Toyota was in contention in the first half of the race, swapping the lead with Porsche from the third to the fifth hour until an unscheduled pit stop by Brendon Hartley's Porsche No. 20 allowed Stephane Sarrazin's Toyota No. 7 to pull away.
In the second hour, a sudden downpour caused the crash of two contenders. Nicolas Lapierre's Toyota No. 8 and Marco Bonanomi's Audi No. 3 were fighting for third place when the Toyota lost traction on a slippery track and bounced off a barrier before clipping the Audi, which was also hit by Sam Bird's Ferrari No. 81.
The accident brought the safety car out for about 40 minutes. Lapierre was able to drive his car back to the garage to have it repaired while Bonanomi was forced to retire. The Toyota No. 8 dealt with balance issues for the rest of the race.
On Sunday, Simon Dolan, Harry Tincknell and Oliver Turvey finished fifth overall in Zytek-Nissan No. 38 but topped the LMP2 class.
Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander, Giancarlo Fisichella won the GTE Pro category in Ferrari No. 51, while Kristian Poulsen, David Heinemeier Hansson and Nicki Thiim finished first in the GTE Am class at the wheel of Aston Martin No. 95. American actor Patrick Dempsey's Porsche No. 77 placed fifth in the GTE Am category.
A total of 54 cars started in the 82nd edition of Le Mans. Only 36 cars finished the race, while 15 retired and three were not classified.