Hybrid Audi marks a historic win at Le Mans 24 hours

Rival Toyota hybrids forced out by engine failure and a spectacular crash

By John Silcox on June 18, 2012 5:27 PM

The diesel-electric Audi R18 e-tron quattro took first and second places in this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, claiming an unprecedented result for hybrid technology in the event.

The winning car was driven by Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benôit Tréluyer (winners in the conventional diesel R18 TDI last year) and its Audi Sport Team Joest teammate, the second R18 e-tron quattro driven by Allan McNish, Rinaldo Capello and Tom Kristensen, took the second spot on the podium.

Despite starting from pole position after qualifying, victory for the No. 1 Audi wasn’t straightforward: it had to fend off fierce competition in the form of two traditionally powered Audi R18s and two hybrid Toyotas, as well as its teammate.

Fässler’s Audi led for the majority of the race, although it relinquished the lead for a while to one of the hybrid Toyota TSO30s at the six-hour mark. The R18 soon retook the lead, however, when the Toyota was bogged down by a number of complications in the pits; the Japanese car ceased to be a threat after the eleventh hour, when it was forced to retire due to engine failure.

Toyota’s night was also blighted by a heavy crash for British driver Anthony Davidson, which ended the race for its other hybrid contender. Davidson’s TS030 was clipped while lapping a Ferrari, crashing forcefully into a safety barrier after performing a spectacular mid-air flip. Piergiuseppe Perazzin, the driver of the Ferrari walked away from the crash, but, Davidson needed treatment at the scene. A later hospital scan revealed that the ex Formula 1 driver had broken two vertebrae.

The winning car, nicknamed "Electra", was not spared from incidents either. Marcel Fässler touched the track barrier twice on Saturday morning: the first time after spinning at high speed, and the second when he had to evade a GT vehicle that was standing sideways in the Mulsanne corner. Co-driver Tréluyer, who was suffering from a severe cold, also spun once at the entrance to the pit lane.

Nevertheless, the Audi hybrid was greeted first by the chequered flag, at exactly 15.00 local time on Sunday 17th June. It completed 378 laps of the epic French race, and has opened up a new chapter for electric power in motorsport history.

"It was an incredible race,” exclaimed Fässler after his win. “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."

"This is no doubt a historic victory for Audi,” said Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Head of Audi Motorsport. “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, as before with the two other technologies, and - what’s more - with both R18 e-tron quattro cars on the two top spots. That was an outstanding achievement by the entire squad, naturally with support from Audi’s Technical Development too, as we’re always working very closely together with the people who are developing our cars of tomorrow for the customers."