Motor racing: Audi snatch victory from disaster at Le Mans

LE MANS, France, June 12, 2011 (AFP) - Audi, with German Andre Lotterer at the wheel, won a gripping Le Mans 24 Hours race here on Sunday.

The Peugeot 908 driven by France's Simon Pagenaud crossed the line in second, with the French car manufacturer also filling third, fourth and fifth places.

(L-R) Drivers of the Audi R18 n°2, French Benoit Treluyer, German Andre Lotterer and Swiss Marcel Fassler (partially hidden), celebrate on the podium with Audi's team manager Wolfgang Ulrich (R), after wining the 79th edition of Le Mans 24 hours endurance race, on June 12, 2011

Lotterer shared driving responsibilities in the winning Audi R18, which edged the 79th edition by a mere 13.854 seconds, with Frenchman Benoit Treluyer and Switzerland's Marcel Fassler.

For all three drivers this was a first win in the iconic endurance test, while for Audi it was a 10th win out of the last 12 races.

The win was all the more memorable after Audi suffered the twin disaster of their two other cars crashing out spectacularly in the opening hours of the race on Saturday.

First to go was the R18 driven by Scotland's two-time winner Allan McNish, who miraculously walked away from the wreckage of his car after a high speed accident less than an hour after the start.

McNish's team-mate and last year's winner Mike Rockenfeller was next to bow out after his car touched a backmarker and speared into the barriers.

Despite the carnage, Audi's lone survivor held the lead and kept the chasing Peugeot pack at bay.

Audi chief Wolfgang Ullrich said: "This was the toughest win of all -- it was very tight from the beginning, then losing two cars with horror crashes, we're lucky both drivers are with us and are fine.

"Our emotions have ranged from the top of the mountain down to the deepest caves."

As dawn rose on the Circuit de la Sarthe, the Peugeot of Alex Wurz was lying second but his chances of winning were scuppered when he slid off at Indianapolis, rejoining the action after a pit stop four laps adrift.

Wurz's car was to eventually take fourth.

That left the Peugeot driven then by Treluyer in closest pursuit of the Audi, setting up a dramatic climax for the 300,000 die-hard Le Mans supporters as the drizzle came down to further complicate matters.

With just 35 minutes to go, the tension in the Audi pits was palpable before their car came in for its final tyre change.

It sped out back onto the circuit with a mere seven-second cushion on the chasing Peugeot, which had pitted at the same time -- the Audi mechanics high-fiving and back-slapping at a job well done.

Only unscripted disaster could now deprive Audi of a famous victory, and Lotterer avoided any mishaps to cross the line in front after 355 laps of tense racing.

Locally born Treluyer, who had handed the wheel to Lotterer a couple of hours before the finish, said: "That was a great job by everyone, it was a true team win. It's difficult to appreciate what we've achieved.

"It was a very hard race, that makes the win even better."

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