Audi is leading the Le Mans 24 Hours after nine hours of racing but the event has been marred by tragedy after the death of a driver soon after the race started.

The race for overall honours is between the two factory teams of Audi and Toyota and immediately from the start both teams set off at a furious pace with the two Toyotas signalling their intent as they homed in on their rivals.

le mans

The #2 Audi R18 ended the first nine hours leading the race

Allan McNish in the lead #2 Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro was passed by team-mate Andre Lotterer before the pair had got to the Dunlop Bridge while Nicolas Lapierre moved his Toyota TS030 Hybrid up to second by the end of the first lap.

The leading three cars were fighting tooth and nail as though it was a sprint rather than a 24-hour endurance race and Lapierre and Lotterer swapped the lead until the race was brought to a halt after a huge crash involving one of the Aston Martins.

Allan Simonsen had qualified his Aston Martin Vantage in pole position in the GT AM class but his race came to an end on the third lap after he skewed off the circuit at Tertre Rouge. There was a huge impact which went led to 50 minutes under the safety cars as marshals rebuilt the barriers. The Dane was taken away from the scene in an ambulance.

allan simonsen

Allan Simonsen’s Aston Martin is towed off the Le Mans circuit after the crash

Once the race restarted, the Audis and Toyotas continued their battles with McNish, Lotterer and Toyota’s Anthony Davidson all leading at some point but after two hours with the rain coming down and teams switching to intermediate tyres it was Davidson who was ahead.

There was good news for Aston Martin though; the #97 Vantage of Darren Turner was leading the GT Pro class whilst the team waited for an update on team-mate Simonsen.

That news came just after the three-hour mark – and it was the news no one wanted to hear. An official statement from the ACO confirmed that Simonsen had succumbed to his injuries in the crash and died. His was the first fatality at Le Mans since 1997.

Aston Martin released a statement confirming that the team would continue to race: "Following the ACO's media statement concerning the tragic death of Aston Martin Racing driver Allan Simonsen, and at the specific request of his family, the team will continue in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in tribute to Allan."

In a joint statement later on Saturday evening, the FIA and ACO presidents, Jean Todt and Pierre Fillon respectively, said: "We wish to express our profound sadness regarding the death of Allan Simonsen at today's 24 Hours of Le Mans. We would like to convey our deepest and heartfelt sympathies to Allan's family and friends. Our thoughts are also with his Aston Martin team-mates at this difficult time.”

allan simonsen

Allan Simonsen was an experienced driver who had raced seven times at Le Mans

Back on the track and the Toyotas were showing their fuel advantage, pitting every 12 laps compared to the Audis’ 10 but by the end of the fourth hour, the German marque held the top three positions.

However, expect the unexpected is a familiar refrain at Le Mans and soon the race was thrown on its head. After another two safety car periods, one caused when the #24 Oak Racing nearly collected the #2 Audi as it slid off the track in the Porsche Curves, positions changed because of the vagaries of the safety cars and Oliver Jarvis in the #3 Audi moved ahead of Loic Duval in the #2.

Duval then showed how the conditions were improving by setting the fastest lap – 1m23.2s – just before the six-hour mark. Up until then the weather had caused problems for teams as wind and rain came and went with increasing regularity.

By this stage the Audis were stretching their leads and the Toyotas looked to be losing touch with the #7 car stopping on track and then a few laps driven very slowly back to the pits by Alex Wurz as the TS030 nearly ran out of fuel, losing 30 seconds on one lap.

However, it was Audi who suffered the most in the seventh hour as the lead #1 R18 had to pit just two laps after a scheduled stop. It would lose 12 laps in the garage as mechanics tackled a crank sensor failure and rejoined in 24th place.

le mans aston martin

The Aston Martin Vantage of Bruno Senna, Frederic Makowiecki and Rob Bell lwas leading the GT Pro class after nine hours

Jarvis then had to complete nearly a full lap on three wheels after his left rear tyre punctured and delaminated at the Dunlop chicane. Wurz moved up to second and Stephane Sarrazin in the #8 Toyota into third as the Audi dropped to fourth.

With the French circuit now in complete darkness, Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Loic Duval held the whip hand but with 15 hours still to go, the race had already shown how fortunes can quickly change.

As Aston Martin led the GT Pro class after nine hours, the CEO of Aston Martin Racing, David Richards, spoke about the team's decision to continue racing.

“Incidents like this are very rare but when they happen you have to make decisions based on a number of factors – in this case the wishes of the family were paramount," he said.

"We spoke with Allan’s family who were insistent that we continued to compete in the 24-hour race. The team is, of course, deeply saddened by the loss of one of our drivers, however we are as focused as ever to win this race, but we are now racing to win for Allan.”

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  • AUTO-FRA-MOTOR-RACING-ENDURANCE

    Audi R18 e-tron quattro N°2 driven by Scottish Allan Mc Nish, (C) ahead of Audi R18 e-tron quattro N°1 driven by German Andre Lotterer (R) , Audi R18 e-tron quattro N°3 driven by Brazilian Lucas Di Grassi (L), Toyota TS030 Hybrid N° 7 driven by French Nicolas Lapierre (3rd on the L) and Toyota TS030 Hybrid N° 8 driven by British Anthony Davidson (2ndR) take the start of the Le Mans 24 Hour Race on June 22, 2013, in Le Mans, western France. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER (Photo credit should read JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images)

  • AUTO-FRA-MOTOR-RACING-ENDURANCE

    Audi R18 e-tron quattro N°2 driven by Scottish Allan Mc Nish, (L) ahead of Audi R18 e-tron quattro N°1 driven by German Andre Lotterer (R) , Audi R18 e-tron quattro N°3 driven by Brazilian Lucas Di Grassi (2ndL), Toyota TS030 Hybrid N° 7 driven by French Nicolas Lapierre (3rd on the L) and Toyota TS030 Hybrid N° 8 driven by British Anthony Davidson (4nd on the R) take the start of the Le Mans 24 Hour Race on June 22, 2013, in Le Mans, western France. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER (Photo credit should read JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images)

  • AUTO-FRA-MOTOR-RACING-ENDURANCE

    Competitors take the start of the 90th edition of Le Mans 24 Hour Race on June 22, 2013, in Le Mans, western France. AFP PHOTO / ALAIN JOCARD (Photo credit should read ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • AUTO-FRA-MOTOR-RACING-ENDURANCE

    Audi R18 e-tron quattro N°2 driven by Scottish Allan Mc Nish, (L) Audi R18 e-tron quattro N°1 driven by German Andre Lotterer (R) , Audi R18 e-tron quattro N°3 driven by Brazilian Lucas Di Grassi (back L), Toyota TS030 Hybrid N° 7 (back-R) driven by French Nicolas Lapierre and Toyota TS030 Hybrid N° 8 driven by British Anthony Davidson (3R) take the start of the Le Mans 24 Hour Race on June 22, 2013, in Le Mans, western France. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER (Photo credit should read jean francois monier/AFP/Getty Images)

  • AUTO-FRA-MOTOR-RACING-ENDURANCE

    Audi R18 e-tron quattro N°2 driven by Scottish Allan Mc Nish, (L) Audi R18 e-tron quattro N°1 driven by German Andre Lotterer (R) , Audi R18 e-tron quattro N°3 driven by Brazilian Lucas Di Grassi (back L), Toyota TS030 Hybrid N° 7 (back-R) driven by French Nicolas Lapierre and Toyota TS030 Hybrid N° 8 driven by British Anthony Davidson (3R) take the start of the Le Mans 24 Hour Race on June 22, 2013, in Le Mans, western France. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER (Photo credit should read JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images)

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  • Allan Simonsen

    FILE - Danish Driver Allan Simonsen, left, is seen during a parade on the eve of the 90th 24-hour Le Mans endurance race, in Le Mans, western France, in this Friday, June 21, 2013 photo. The No.95 Aston Martin Vantage GTE, driven by Simonsen, exited the track at high speed at the "Tertre Rouge" corner on his fourth lap of the race, He died after due to his injuries, Saturday, June 22, 2013.(AP Photo/Michel Spingler, File)

  • The No.95 Aston Martin Vantage GTE is seen after the crash which killed the driver Allan Simonsen of Denmerk , during the Le Mans 24 hour car race Saturday, June 22, 2013. The No.95 Aston Martin Vantage GTE, driven by Simonsen, exited the track at high speed at the "Tertre Rouge" corner on his fourth lap of the race, and Simonsen died of his injuries, Saturday. (AP Photo)

  • The garage of the No.95 Aston Martin Vantage GTE, driven by Allan Simonsen of Denmerk is shuttered after his crash Saturday, June 22, 2013. The Aston Martin Vantage , driven by Simonsen, exited the track at high speed at the "Tertre Rouge" corner on his fourth lap of the race. He died later due to his injuries.(AP Photo)

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  • The Audi R18 E-Tron No1, front, driven by Andre Lotterer of Germany, Marcel Fassler of Switzerland and Benoit Treluyer of France is seen in action during the 90th 24-hour Le Mans endurance race, in Le Mans, western France, Friday, June 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)

  • AUTO-FRA-MOTOR-RACING-ENDURANCE

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  • Mechanics of the Audi R18 E-Tron No1 driven by Andre Lotterer of Germany, Marcel Fassler of Switzerland and Benoit Treluyer of France are seen in action during the 90th 24-hour Le Mans endurance race, in Le Mans, western France, Friday, June 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)

  • Mechanics of the Morgan Nissan driven by Julien Nicolet of France, Jean-Marie Merlin of France and Philippe Mondolot of France are seen in action during the 90th 24-hour Le Mans endurance race, in Le Mans, western France, Friday, June 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)

  • AUTO-FRA-MOTOR-RACING-ENDURANCE

    US actor Patrick Dempsey in his pit after a relay in his Porsche 911 N°77 during the 90th 24-hours of Le Mans endurance race on June 23, 2013, in Le Mans, western France. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER (Photo credit should read jean francois monier/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Le Mans 24h Race

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  • AUTO-FRA-MOTOR-RACING-ENDURANCE

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  • Le Mans 24h Race

    LE MANS, FRANCE - JUNE 23: Mechanics rest in the Murphy Prototypes garage during the Le Mans 24 Hour race at the Circuit de la Sarthe on June 23, 2013 in Le Mans, France. (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)

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    The podium flies the Danish flag at half mast as a tribute to Allan Simonsen (DEN) Aston Martin Vantage V8, who suffered a fatal accident in the race.Le Mans 24 Hours Race, Saturday 22nd June 2013. Le Mans, France.

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