The new Audi R15 plus claimed a dominant victory on its debut in the Paul Ricard 8 Hours.
Audi drivers Allan McNish and Rinaldo Capello led all but two and half laps of the opening round of the Le Mans Series on the way to a five-lap victory over the Aston Martin Racing Lola driven by Stefan Mucke, Adrian Fernandez and Harold Primat.
The ORECA Peugeot 908, the only car capable of challenging the Audi on pace, finished fourth after losing nine laps early in the race with a problem with the rear airjack system.
"It is nice to chock up another victory for the Audi marque and a first victory for a new car is always something special," said McNish.
Ralf Juttner, technical director of Audi Sport Team Joest, added that vital lessons had been learned for the Le Mans 24 Hours in June, which was the primary reason for Audi contesting this race with a solo R15 plus.
"This was the idea of coming here, to see how the changes between the R15 and the R15 plus have worked," he said. "We are taking a long list of things to work on away with us, but the fundamentals seem good."
The Strakka Racing HPD/Acura staged a remarkable comeback to claim LMP2 honours after the car driven by Danny Watts, Jonny Kane and Nick Leventis lost four laps to bodywork repairs. Watts, who had qualified the car on pole position by 2.2 seconds, led the fightback and retook the lead in the penultimate hour.
The Briton fell behind the best of the OAK Racing Pescarolos when he stopped with just over an hour to go, but moved back to the front when Richard Hein brought the Judd-powered OAK Pescarolo he shared with Guillaume Moreau into the pits with half an hour to go.
"Spending 12 minutes in the pits early on wasn't the plan, but the team showed fantastic spirit to fight back," said Watts.
The GT2 class was won by the Felbermayr Proton Porsche driven by Richard Lietz and Marc Lieb. The two Porsche factory drivers battled with the Imsa Performance Porsche shared by Patrick Pilet and Raymond Narac early in the race and then fought off a challenge from the AF Corse Ferrari driven by Toni Vilander, Giancarolo Fisichella and Jean Alesi later on. The latter ultimately dropped back to third behind the second Felbermayr entry.
Pos Driver Class/Team/Car Laps 1. Capello/McNish P1 Audi 266 2. Fernandez/Primat/Mucke P1 Aston Martin 261 3. Belicchi/Boullion/Smith P1 Rebellion Lola 261 4. Panis/Lapierre/Sarrazin P1 ORECA Peugeot 258 5. Ayari/Andre/Duval P1 ORECA 258 6. Ragues/Mailleux/Ickx P1 Signature Aston 256 7. Leventis/Watts/Kane P2 Strakka HPD 250 8. Hein/Moreau P2 Oak Pescarolo 250 9. Erdos/Newton/Wallace P2 RML Lola 249 10. Lahaye/Nicolet P2 Oak Pescarolo 249 11. Prost/Jani P1 Rebellion Lola 248 12. Ojjeh/Greaves/Ebbesvik P2 Bruich. Ginetta 248 13. Geri/Piccini/Piccini P2 Racing Box Lola 246 14. Mansell/Mansell/Mansell P1 Beechdean Ginetta 243 15. Toulemonde/Zollinger/Zampatti LC Formula Le Mans 237 16. Beche/Pillon/Capillaire LC Formula Le Mans 237 17. Barlesi/Cicognani/Chalandon LC Formula Le Mans 235 18. Lieb/Lietz GT2 Felbermayr Porsche 233 19. Zacchia/Moro/Kaufmann LC Formula Le Mans 231 20. Ragginger/Ried/Long GT2 Felbermayr Porsche 231 21. Fisichella/Vilander/Alesi GT2 AF Corse Ferrari 231 22. Ehret/Quaife/Kaffer GT2 CRS Ferrari 231 23. Companc/Russo GT2 AF Corse Ferrari 231 24. Gardel/Goueslard/Canal GT1 Larbre Saleen 229 25. Muller/Werner GT2 BMW 225 26. Schell/Metz/da Rocha P2 Pegasus Courage 219 27. Narac/Pilet GT2 IMSA Porsche 219 28. Dumbreck/Coronel/Bleekemolen GT2 Spyker 215 29. Pourtales/Noda/Kennard P2 KSM Lola 188 Not classified 39. Farnbacher/Simonsen GT2 Farnbacher Ferrari 204 21. Stirling/Hines/Piscopo LC Formula Le Mans 203 41. Kutemann/Basso/Hartshorne LC Formula Le Mans 203 12. Amaral/Pla/Hughes P2 Quifel Ginetta 200 22. Kraihamer/de Crem/Delhez LC Formula Le Mans 195 17. Salini/Salini/Gommendy P2 WR-Zytek 168 33. Bruni/Melo GT2 AF Cornse Ferrari 152 30. Kirkaldy/Mullen GT2 CRS Ferrari 123 16. Cioci/Perazzini/Pirri P2 Racing Box Lola 116 19. Frey/Meichtry/Dueck P2 Race Perf. Radical 66 34. Bell/Turner GT2 JMW Aston Martin 65 35. Holzer/Westbrook GT2 Prospeed Porsche 54