The 80th 24 Hours of Le Mans began in promising fashion for the teams of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón, but finished with tears and heartbreak. Though two different ALMS teams led their category at one point, none came through with a podium finish in a race swept by the mighty Audis.
From the early stages, it appeared Corvette Racing was the team to beat in GTE Pro. The No. 74 Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1 sparred early with an Aston Martin and Ferrari, but took firm hold of the lead just before a full-course caution for a scary crash between the No. 8 Toyota Hybrid and No. 81 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia.
In Hour 18, Tommy Milner went backward into the Porsche Curves tire wall after contact with an Audi, requiring more than two hours of repair work from the crew. The team held the car in the garage until the final 40 minutes when Oliver Gavin jumped into the driver's seat and brought the car home for a sixth-place finish at the line, but unclassified in the official results for not completing the minimum race distance.
Le Mans continued to be unkind to Flying Lizard Motorsports. The team's GTE-Pro car — piloted by Patrick Long, Joerg Bergmeister and Marco Holzer — struggled with damper failures early on in the race, but it was another competitor that ultimately ended the No. 80's race prematurely. In Hour 10, as Patrick Long entered the Michelin Chicane, another competitor was rejoining the track from the runoff, dragging a sea of gravel with it. Long hit the gravel, spun and made contact with the tire wall. He was unable to return the car to pit lane, and the team officially retired the No. 80.
Things were looking much brighter for the Lizard's No. 79 GTE-Am car. Patrick Pilet qualified the car on pole and Spencer Pumpelly handed the car over to Seth Nieman in Hour Five with a comfortable margin. During Neiman's stint, the car unexpectedly snapped left, sending him off course. The back of the car sustained heavy damage. Neiman limped the car back to pit lane for a long repair process.
As for the overall result at the front of the field, the world awaited an answer to the question: can Toyota beat Audi? The answer at the 80th 24 Hours of Le Mans was 'no,' but not because of unreliability as some had predicted, based on the team's limited track time before the world's toughest endurance race. The two Toyota hybrids challenged Audi's two hybrids and two diesels with aplomb in the first quarter of the race.
The first Toyota causality was Anthony Davidson's scary accident in the No. 8 Toyota Racing Hybrid, which eliminated that car from the race (Davidson suffered a broken back but is expected to make a full recovery).
The No. 1 Audi driven by Andre Lottrer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer won the 80th 24 Hours of Le Mans by one lap.
The American Le Mans presented by Tequila Patrón returns to action at Lime Rock Park for the American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix on Saturday, July 7. The two-hour, 45-minute race is scheduled for 3 p.m. from the 1.5-mile, 10-turn Lime Rock Park circuit. ESPN2 airs the race the same day at 4 p.m. Live coverage is available starting at 2:45 p.m. on ESPN3.