Audi took its total of Le Mans wins to 13 overall – just three behind the most successful marque ever at the race, Porsche – by beating its fellow German firm and the Japanese might of Toyota to claim victory after a gruelling 24 hour race.
During qualifying it looked like Audi might not have the pace to challenge the other two teams, with Toyota and Porsche setting the hot laps on Wednesday and Thursday practice and qualifying.
However, as we’ve learnt in the past, you can never write off Audi, with its slick pit work and metronomic reliability.
It was Toyota with its lead TS040 hybrid car who roared off into the distance, however, dominating the race by turning in consistently faster lap times than anybody else until its car failed at around 5am, grinding to a halt out on the back of the incredible 8.5-mile track with an electrical problem.
Thankfully, the sister car remained in the race but had dropped well down the order after an earlier accident.
An evening shower saw a number of cars caught out on slick tyres in torrential rain. The #8 Toyota and the #3 Audi, dicing down the Mulsanne Straight, got tangled up with a slower Ferrari 458 GT car, meaning both prototypes collided with the barriers hard.
The Toyota managed to limp back to the pits with extensive bodywork damage, but for the Audi that was race over. Which meant it was now two vs two vs two.
While Audi took the lead after the fastest Toyota retired, it wasn’t for long. Porsche – making its return to Le Mans in the top class after 16 years – hit the front of the field to great applause. It even looked like it might do the unthinkable and win on the 919 Hybrid vehicle’s debut at the famous French 24-hour race.
It wasn’t to be though. Problems for ex-Formula One driver Mark Webber in the lead car meant he had to coax his car back to the pits on electric power alone from the clever hybrid system.
This meant the hard charging #2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro took the lead, which is ultimately where it stayed. In fact, Audi took a one-two.
The result was more flattering than the race suggested, however. Audi had to work hard for this one, shown by the massive crash it had on Wednesday night qualifying. It was chasing Toyota and Porsche, but its reliability game plan played into its hands once more, so credit to the German firm for showing its incredible versatility and never say die spirit at Le Mans once more.
Even though just one of its opponents finished (the #8 Toyota picked up third overall), it was a much closer affair than the final result showed.
But best of all, given the performance in qualifying (0.7 seconds separating the top three, 2.5 seconds separating the top six) it proves the new Le Mans regulations work.
While the fuel flow system in Formula One has caused some controversy, here –combined with differing hybrid technologies – it shows that sportscar racing is one again in the ascendance.
Three different combustion engines with three different hybrid systems can lap an 8.5-mile track within tenths of each other – that’s about as close as it gets.
It’s a shame reliability issues for Toyota and Porsche stopped us race fans from seeing a battle to the line, but we’re sure the other two teams will be back again next year to try and stop the Audi domination of Le Mans once more.
Did you make the annual pilgrimage to Le Mans this year? What did you think of the race? What was your favourite car? Why not let us know on twitter @twwhiteandsons or let us know on our Facebook page here.