Audi fought off the Toyota challenge for a second year to claim the 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans after a tense and emotional race that was tinged with tragedy.
The undisputed king of Le Mans, Tom Kristensen, took the chequered flag in the #2 Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro after a dramatic final couple of hours in which the weather, which had played a part throughout the race, saved its best for last with a huge downpour that caused chaos throughout the field.
The win gave Kristensen his ninth victory while team-mate Allan McNish claimed his hat-trick and Loic Duval his maiden win.
The trio finished ahead of the #8 Toyota TS030 Hybrid of Anthony Davidson, Stephane Sarrazin and Sebastien Buemi after a close battle but one which Audi looked to manage for more than half of the 24 hours. Rounding off the podium was the #3 Audi of Oliver Jarvis, Marc Gene and Lucas Di Grassi.
Simonsen, who was competing in the GT Am class in an all-Danish crew alongside Christoffer Nygaard and Kristian Poulsen, was leading the class after having qualified his Vantage GTE in pole position.
However, in just his fourth lap he lost control of the car at Tertre Rouge, the corner before the high speed Mulsanne Straight and slewed off the track, hit the barriers and bounced back onto the tarmac. The incident caused the first of many safety car incidents during the race as marshals cleared the debris while Simonsen was taken to hospital.
A few hours later, the race organisers, the ACO, issued a statement which confirmed the worst: "At 15h09 the #95 Aston Martin Vantage GTE, driven by Allan Simonsen of Denmark, exited the track at high-speed at the Tertre Rouge corner on his fourth lap of the race.
"In a serious condition, Allan Simonsen was transferred immediately to the circuit medical centre, where he died soon after.”
Simonsen, aged 34, was an experienced driver and had taken part in seven Le Mans races. His was the first fatality at Le Mans since 1997.
The Aston Martin team, which had cars in both BT Pro and GT Am classes, announced it would continue racing after consulting Simonsen’s family.
The race looked to be just about over as a contest with about 75 minutes to go as Kristensen was managing his lead over the Toyota. However, the rain came down at its heaviest forcing teams to pit for wet weather tyres. The situation was made worse when two LMP2 cars crashed in the rain to bring the 11th safety car period. At the same time the #7 Toyota driven by Lapierre hit the barriers at the Porsche Curves and pitted for a new front end, giving the #3 Audi a comfortable lead for third after the two cars had enjoyed a real battle for the final podium place.
At the front, Kristensen still held a one lap advantage over Buemi as the clock counted down in the last hour behind the safety car. Racing resumed with just over 30 minutes remaining and Buemi unlapped himself but was unable to do more.
Audi had begun to take real control of the race after the ninth hour when Kristensen increased his advantage and pitted after three hours 22 minutes at the wheel to hand the R18 over to Allan McNish.
Accidents during the night disrupted the rhythm of the race but McNish stayed at the front of the field and actually pulled away from Davidson. The #3 Audi also moved up after a puncture in the seventh hour had cost it time and position.
Worse befell the #1 Audi though when a crank sensor problem meant it spent a lengthy period in the pits, losing 12 laps to the leaders. It effectively meant that drivers Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer would not win a third successive Le Mans. The trio still put in a fine effort though by storming through the field to move into fifth after rejoining from 12th.
Toyota had proved a worthy competitor to Audi and had led early in the race after a furious start to the race in which the two Toyotas homed in on their rivals from the start.
McNish was passed by Lotterer before the pair had got to the Dunlop Bridge while 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 Simonsen’s crash.
Davidson moved into the lead once the race was restarted but by the end of the fourth hour, Audi held the three podium positions. Toyota wouldn’t lead the race again and although there were moments when they threatened, it was Audi who would take another historic victory.