Loic Duval, Marc Gene and Romain Dumas took advantage of the Audi R18 Ultra's superior speed over its in-house rivals to deny the e-tron hybrid version victory on its debut, as the German cars finished 1-2-3-4 in Saturday's Spa six hour race.
The second round of the World Endurance Championship was completely dominated by the four Audi machines, but the superior pace of the #3 Ultra car in the dry meant that Duval, Gene and Dumas scored a hard-earned but deserved win over their team-mates.
The race began in wet conditions, which gave the four-wheel drive e-trons a distinct advantage when the hybrid power kicked in over 120km/h around the soaking sweeps of Spa and Tom Kristensen, in the #2 car initially led from the #1 car of Andre Lotterer.
The duo swapped positions on lap three and Lotterer quickly established a lead, the pair followed by the conventional ultra cars of Marco Bonanomi (#4) and Gene (#3).
The two hybrids pitted first and stayed on intermediates for their second stints, but former Peugeot driver Gene, in his first race for Audi, changed to slicks in a smart move that provided the catalyst to begin a spirited pursuit of the e-trons. This was further assisted by a right front light problem for Kristensen's #2 car, forcing a regulatory nose change and costing the car 45s, dropping it to third.
Gene closed the gap to Lotterer over the remainder of his stint before handing over to Duval who delivered a supreme performance to move ahead of leader Benoit Treluyer, now in the #1 car, mid-race as the Ultra's superiority took hold.
Not long after Duval had taken the lead, two safety car periods, the second because of a massive shunt for the LMP2 Norma at Eau Rouge, ensured the #3 car had a comfortable gap to its rivals thanks in part to its fortuitous track position.
After that it was a question of Dumas bringing the car home in the final two stints. The two Frenchmen now lead the drivers' championship.
"It was many things," said Duval of the win afterwards. "It was the tyre choice at the beginning of the race, that was one key. Our competitiveness during my stint, that was key to be able to catch the #1, to overtake them and to take the lead.
"And the second safety car helped us a bit, but even without that the #1 would have been closer but I still think we would have been able to win.
"Romain did the job he had to do, which was to make sure that he did the job he had to do which is to make sure they did not catch us. And the mechanics I think we were the fastest in the pits too. Today was a perfect race."
Marcel Fassler brought the #1 car home second more than a minute behind Dumas after a late stop for tyres - still an impressive result for the all-new flywheel hybrid machine.
Oliver Jarvis also stopped late on in the #4 car he shared with Bonanami, after a puncture, but took third ahead of the Sebring-winning crew of Kristensen/Allan McNish/Dindo Capello, who endured a catalogue of issues through the race. These included that nose change, being delayed by the safety car, a small off when the Scot was at the wheel and finally a late-race stop-and-go penalty for a pit infringement after they too suffered a puncture.
In the end, the crew that came into the race as championship leaders was nearly three laps off the lead.
Behind the Audis, Rebellion won a spirited battle among the petrol runners as Nicolas Prost brought the #12 Lola home fifth overall. Nick Heidfeld put in a strong middle stint in this car to move it ahead of Pescarolo's Dome in the mid-race at a time when the Strakka HPD was also in the hunt.
The Dome, driven by Sebastien Bourdais and Nicolas Minassian, would finish 16th after problems late on, which meant the second Rebellion car of Andrea Belicchi and Harald Primat finished sixth ahead of Nick Leventis, Jonny Kane and Danny Watts for Strakka.
Sam Hancock and Simon Dolan took a well-deserved victory for the Nissan-powered Jota team in the LMP2 class after inheriting the lead late-on when Robbie Kerr pitted five minutes from the end to take on fuel.
The ADR-Delta car had led for much of the race, having taken pole, though Jota's Zytek had always been within striking distance.
The GT race was settled in enthralling style as Richard Lietz's Felbermayr Porsche held off Gianmaria Bruni's AF Corse Ferrari by less than a second as they raced past the chequered flag.
The Porsche had established a strong lead in the wet early stages, but Bruni's late-race pursuit meant the result was in doubt right to the end.
Results - 160 laps: Pos Cl Drivers Team/Car Time/Gap 1. P1 Dumas/Duval/Gene Audi 6h00m22.708s 2. P1 Fassler/Lotterer/Treluyer Audi (e-tron) + 46.801s 3. P1 Bonanomi/Jarvis Audi + 1 lap 4. P1 Capello/Kristensen/McNish Audi (e-tron) + 1 lap 5. P1 Prost/Jani/Heidfeld Rebellion Lola-Toyota + 4 laps 6. P1 Belicchi/Primat Rebellion Lola-Toyota + 5 laps 7. P1 Leventis/Watts/Kane Strakka HPD + 6 laps 8. P2 Dolan/Hancock Jota Zytek-Nissan + 9 laps 9. P2 Martin/Kerr/Graves ADR-Delta ORECA-Nissan + 9 laps 10. P2 Firth/Hughes/Hartley Murphy ORECA-Nissan + 9 laps 11. P2 Heinemeir Hansson/Leinders OAK Morgan-Judd + 10 laps 12. P1 Brabham/Chandhok/Dumbreck JRM HPD + 10 laps 13. P2 Clarke/Briere/Petersen Boutsen Ginion ORECA-Nissan + 11 laps 14. P2 Giroix/Jousse/Johansson Gulf Lola-Nissan + 12 laps 15. P1 Bourdais/Minassian Pescarolo Dome-Judd + 13 laps 16. P2 Zugel/Gonzalez/Julian Greaves Zytek-Nissan + 13 laps 17. P2 Nicolet/Lahaye/Pla OAK Morgan-Judd + 16 laps 18. GTE P Lieb/Lietz Felbermayr Porsche + 16 laps 19. GTE P Fisichella/Bruni AF Corse Ferrari + 16 laps 20. GTE P Makowiecki/Melo Luxury Ferrari + 17 laps 21. GTE P Bertolini/Beretta AF Corse Ferrari + 19 laps 22. GTE A Armindo/Narac/Pons Imsa Porsche + 21 laps 23. P2 Ihara/Deletraz Gulf Lola-Nissan + 21 laps 24. GTE A Ried/Roda/Ruberti Felbermayr Porsche + 21 laps 25. P2 Perez Companc/Ayari/Kaffer Pecom ORECA-Nissan + 21 laps 26. GTE A Perazzini/Cioci/Griffin AF Corse Ferrari + 22 laps 27. GTE A Bornhauser/Canal/Rees Larbre Corvette + 23 laps 28. GTE A Ehret/Montecalvo/Jeannette Luxury Ferrari + 23 laps 29. P2 Moro/Weeda/Rossiter Lotus Lola + 23 laps 30. P2 Panciatici/Ragues/Rusinov Signatech ORECA-Nissan + 24 laps 31. GTE A Camathias/Palttala/Daniels JWA Porsche + 26 laps 32. GTE A Krohn/Jonsson/Rugolo Krohn Ferrari + 31 laps 33. P2 Mailleux/Lombard/Tresson Signatech ORECA-Nissan + 32 laps 34. P2 Potolicchio/Dalziel/Sarrazin HPD ARX 03b-Honda + 37 laps Retirements: P1 Moreau/Baguette/Kraihamer OAK Pescarolo-Judd 151 laps P2 Holzer/Schultis/van der Zande Lotus Lola 124 laps P2 Thirion/Haezebrouck Extreme Limite Norma-Judd 83 laps P2 Frey/Hirschi/Meichtry Race Performance ORECA-Judd 45 laps GTE A Belloc/Bourret Larbre Corvette 39 laps GTE P Fernandez/Mucke/Turner Aston Martin 11 laps GTE A Kauffman/Vickers/Aguas AF Waltrip Ferrari 0 laps
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