Audi claimed victory over Porsche in a frenetic first round of the FIA WEC season at Silverstone, the #7 car of Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler taking the top step of the podium.
By: Jamie Klein, News Editor
The #7 R18 e-tron quattro ended the six-hour race 46 seconds clear of the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Romain Dumas, Marc Lieb and Neel Jani, whose victory chances vanished after a late front-right puncture forced them into making an extra pit-stop.
It effectively decided what had been a close battle in favour of Audi, their duel made more tense after both German marques were reduced to a single car at the end of the second hour.
The #1 Porsche suffered a dramatic exit when Brendon Hartley tripped over the #86 GTE-Am class Porsche of Michael Wainwright at Turn 2, launching the Kiwi's car onto its side hurtling at high speed towards the gravel trap.
Moments later, the #8 Audi, piloted by Lucas di Grassi, also ground to halt with a hybrid system malfunction and could not be restarted.
Despite being some way off the pace of its German rivals, Toyota came through to clinch the bottom step of the podium with the #6 TS050 Hybrid of Mike Conway, Stephane Sarrazin and Kamui Kobayashi, which finished a lap down on the leaders.
The #5 car of Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima had been battling for third, but ended up finished well down the order after a right-rear puncture destroyed the car's bodywork, spewing debris all over the circuit and bringing out the safety car.
That left Rebellion Racing to claim fourth and fifth places, the #12 R-One machine coming home 10 laps down on the leaders and beating the sister #13 car by two laps.
The #4 ByKolles CLM was plagued by problems and ended up 11 laps down on the best of the Rebellions.
Story of the race
Although Audi converted its front-row lockout into an early lead, Lotterer in the #7 leading Oliver Jarvis in the #8, Webber demonstrated Porsche's pace advantage by picking off both R18s inside the first 30 minutes and quickly pulling away.
The Aussie had built an advantage of more than 10 seconds by the first pitstops, and Hartley continued to press home Porsche's advantage taking over the #1 car for the second stint.
By the end of the second hour, Hartley's lead over the #7 Audi had grown to over 40 seconds when the Kiwi driver's race came to an abrupt end after the contact with Wainwright - which, combined with the demise of the #8 car, led to a full course yellow lasting more than 20 minutes.
Audi's slender advantage was reduced to zero when the #5 Toyota's puncture brought out the safety car, and once the action resumed, the #7 Audi and the #2 Porsche ran in close company for several laps, the gap between the pair ebbing and flowing as the pair threaded their way through the traffic.
Dumas however lost precious time in the Porsche spinning after contact with Marino Franchitti's #67 Ford GT at Club, giving the #7 a buffer of around 13 seconds when Fassler took over for the final stint.
Jani managed to reduce the gap to half a dozen seconds at the start of the final hour before Porsche's victory chances were ruined by the Swiss driver's puncture.
Fassler made Audi's seventh and final stop with 35 minutes to go, reducing the gap to Porsche to under 10 seconds, but Jani was forced to make a late splash for fuel with 10 minutes remaining, leaving Fassler to take the chequered flag by a comfortable margin of 46 seconds.
RGR Sport, Ferrari take class wins
In the LMP2 class, it was the #43 RGR Sport by Morand Ligier JS P2 of Filipe Albquerque, Bruno Senna and Ricardo Gonzalez that took the spoils on its WEC debut by 32 seconds.
The #31 ESM Ligier held off the #26 G-Drive Oreca entry in the closing stages for second in class, the two cars finishing less than 10 seconds apart, Rene Rast picking off the #36 Signatech Alpine of Nicolas Lapierre with 15 minutes remaining to grab the final podiums spot.
Ferrari dominated the GTE Pro class, the #71 Ferrari 488 of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird leading virtually throughout to take a dominant win ahead of the #51 machine of Gianmaria Bruni and James Calado, which was forced to start last after its problems in qualifying and lost a further three minutes with an engine change stop-and-go penalty.
The #95 Aston Martin was third in class, ahead of the two Ford GTs - the #67 beating the #66 - as the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche dropped out of second with suspension problems.
A similar problem appeared to afflict the #88 Abu Dhabi Porsche, which had led for virtually the entire distance in the GTE-Am class, handing victory instead to the #83 Ferrari of Emmanuel Collard, Rui Aguas and Francois Perrodo.