Audi stamp authority as Le Mans sun rises

Reuters

Sun, 17 Jun 09:30:00 2012

* Davidson suffers broken back in crash

* Audi hybrids running forst and second

* Toyota led early until accident ended hopes

Reigning champions Audi stamped their authority on the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race on Sunday while Toyota's challenge ended with British driver Anthony Davidson lying in hospital with a broken back.

The German manufacturer's quest to win a first Le Mans title with an R18 diesel hybrid was well on track at the 18-hour mark with the cars running in first and second place ahead of two non-hybrids.

Italian Rinaldo Capello in the number two Audi held the overall lead from Switzerland's Marcel Faessler, who lost position in the number one Audi when he returned to the pits for repairs on the rear bodywork.

Faessler had spun, clipping the barriers at the Porsche curves, at the 13-hour mark before glancing off the tyre wall again as the sun rose over the Sarthe circuit.

The Audis may not be infallible but the German machines certainly looked untouchable after racing at the front through the night and with just over seven hours to go.

Marco Bonanomi was running third in the non-hybrid number four Audi with stable-mate Romain Dumas behind him in the number three car after co-driver Loic Duval saw off former Formula One driver Nick Heidfeld's Lola.

Dumas was nine laps down on the leading trio but he did well to recover position after he took the car into the barriers in the early stages of the race.

The Frenchman had to dig the Audi out of the tyre wall before nursing the damaged car back to the pits.

BIG CRASH

Toyota had snatched the lead from Audi after five hours of intense racing but their excitement turned to horror when Davidson, racing in another hybrid Toyota, suffered a spectacular crash.

His car tagged a Ferrari and took off, twisting 360 degrees in the air before plunging into the tyre barriers at Mulsanne Corner.

The Briton, who clambered out of the car before gesticulating for help from the medical team, will stay in hospital until Monday after fracturing two vertebrae in the incident.

"Well that was a big one! Lying in a French hospital with a broken back wasn't what I had in mind at this stage in the race," the 33-year-old, whose injuries are expected to take three months to heal, said on Twitter.

Toyota later had to retire their second car when the engine failed.

"It was a real disappointment to end the race early; our dream was to see the chequered flag," said Kazuki Nakajima, who was the last Toyota driver out on track.

Before his exit, Nakajima ended the run of the experimental Nissan DeltaWing overnight when the Toyota pushed it off the road and into the barriers at the exit of the Porsche Curves.

The American HPD ARX03b team were the highest runners of the junior LMP2 category as they climbed to eighth place overall.

The Corvettes relinquished control in the GTE pro class after leading at the 10-hour mark, ceding first and second place to Ferrari 458s.

 

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