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Mon Apr 21 16:56:02 SAST 2014

Audi lead as Davidson breaks back at Le Mans

Sarah Holt, Reuters | 17 June, 2012 09:580 Comments
Andre Lotterer of Germany drives his Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro Number 1 at the start of the Le Mans 24-hour sportscar race in Le Mans, central France June 16, 2012. The Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro Number 1 is also driven by Marcel Fassler of Switzerland and Benoit Treluyer of France
Image by: Stephane Mahe / REUTERS

Toyota’s British driver Anthony Davidson suffered a broken back after a massive accident in the Le Mans 24-Hour endurance race while champions Audi led into the early hours of Sunday in 1-2-3 formation.

Davidson was taken to hospital after his Toyota tagged a Ferrari sportscar he was lapping in an accident that brought out the safety car with five hours gone.

The Toyota took off and twisted 360 degrees through the air before plunging into the tyre barriers at Mulsanne Corner, the end of the fast Mulsanne straight where cars reach speeds of more than 330kph.

The 33-year-old, an ex-Formula One driver and grand prix analyst for Sky television, climbed out of the number eight car and gesticulated before receiving treatment from the medical team at the Sarthe circuit.

The AF Corse Ferrari hit the barriers and overturned but Italian driver Piergiuseppe Perazzini was also able to extricate himself.

Toyota said Davidson had been walking and talking normally before being taken to hospital. The Briton later confirmed the extent of his injuries from the crash on his Twitter site.

“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,” he said.

After 14 hours, the number one Audi with Germany’s Andre Lotterer at the wheel was more than two minutes ahead of the number two driven by twice winner Allan McNish.

The number four Audi was in third place, ahead of the number 12 Toyota-powered Lola. 

  DELTAWING RETIRES

Moments before Davidson’s crash, Nicolas Lapierre in the number seven Toyota petrol-hybrid had taken the lead from Audi’s number one R18 diesel-hybrid driven at the time by fellow Frenchman Treluyer.

The pair swapped places more than once before the Toyota racer made the move stick.

But with the safety car out on the track, Audi and Toyota then took the opportunity to swap their drivers and Switzerland’s Fassler returned the Audi to the lead.

Former Formula One driver Kazuki Nakajima had slotted into second place in the Toyota ahead of Audi’s Italian Rinaldo Capello after five hours but his car then suffered a puncture and bodywork damage after a collision with the revolutionary DeltaWing car.

Re-joining, Nakajima had to make a further pitstop to change the alternator and replace the rear brakes. After 14 hours they had fallen to 48th of the 56 entrants.

The number three Audi R18 ultra had moved up to fifth place after dropping back to 24th hours earlier when Romain Dumas put it into the tyre barriers in an earlier crash.

The Frenchman frantically dug the Audi out of the tyre wall and nursed the damaged car back to the pits.

In the LMP2 category, the number 44 HPD was highest placed in seventh with the number 49 Oreca in eighth.

Le Mans debutant Alex Brundle, partnering his father and 1990 Le Mans winner Martin, was in 16th place in the Zytek Z11SN.

The Nissan-powered DeltaWing suffered gearbox and fuelling problems and retired after seven hours following the collision.

“It’s a shame because we had been running well, setting respectable times and things were going well,” said Britain’s Marino Franchitti, who had yet to get behind the wheel.

“Having spent so much time developing it, I’m gutted I haven’t been able to race it — that hurts.”

The sleek car, reminiscent of a ‘Batmobile’, had been invited to race at Le Mans to showcase new technologies, including a smaller engine and closely-aligned front wheels.

Audi won last year’s race with a diesel-powered car, their 10th victory in the last 12 years at the event.

This year’s race is the 80th edition of the sportscar classic at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

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