Continuing more than a decade of dominance in the world’s most famous endurance race, Audi took the checkered flag at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its R18 TDI Hybrid. Capping off its dominant victory, Audi took four out of the top five spots. It also marked the race debut of Nissan’s unorthodox DeltaWing racer, and a race-ending crash for Toyota’s hybrid entry, the first Le Mans car fielded by the automaker in 13 years.
But despite good fortunes for Audi once the checkered flag was waved, the race was not without its challenges for the team. Driver Marcel Fässler of Switzerland, one of three drivers of the winning car, hit the track barrier twice on Saturday, first after spinning, and the second time to evade a GT-class vehicle sitting sideways in the Mulsanne corner. Andre Lotterer of Germany piloted the winning car across the finish line.
The other car that made its highly-anticipated debut at Le Mans was Nissan’s experimental DeltaWing racer. Entered with the objective of setting a new standard of fuel efficiency for endurance racing, the DeltaWing was designed to use half the amount of fuel of a conventional racer, and gained notoriety even before the race for its unusual dart-shaped profile. The car ran for six hours and more than 600 miles before an unfortunate collision with Toyota’s hybrid-powered LM P1 entry driven by Kazuki Nakajima. DeltaWing driver Satoshi Motoyama tried for 90 minutes after the collision to try to get the car running again and back to the pits for an attempt to get it back on the track, but ultimately realized the steering was too severely damaged to continue. The accident denied Marino Franchitti, younger brother of Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti, a chance behind the wheel of the racer, but nevertheless lauded Motoyama’s efforts to get the car going again. In the LM P2 class, Nissan fielded 11 of the 20 vehicles racing.
Toyota’s TS030 Hybrid racer was off to a strong start for the first five hours of the race, but took a dramatic turn for the worse when driver Anthony Davidson tagged a Ferrari driven by Piergiuseppe Perazzini, resulting in a 360-degree flip in the air, and coming down on the tire barriers in the Mulsanne Corner. Davidson’s injuries are serious, but not life threatening. The 33 year-old British driver tweeted from his hospital bed, “Well, that was a big one! Feeling a bit sore today, but generally happy to be alive.”