LE MANS, France (AP) — In its return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans after a 16-year absence in the top category, Porsche took the lead in the 21st hour on Sunday.
Defending champion Tom Kristensen’s Audi No. 1 surrendered the lead to Timo Bernhard’s Porsche No. 20 because of a turbocharger problem. Bernhard led Andre Lotterer’s Audi No. 2 by a lap and the Audi No. 1 by two laps.
Sebastien Buemi’s Toyota No. 8 was fourth, seven laps off the pace, followed by Neel Jani’s Porsche No. 14.
Pole-sitter Kazuki Nakajima’s Toyota No. 7 retired in the 15th hour because of an electrical problem, losing the lead to Benoit Treluyer’s Audi No. 2.
Gene’s Audi No. 1 then hit the front in the 17th hour when the Audi No. 2 headed back to the garage to change a turbocharger.
Porsche and Toyota swapped the lead from the third to the fifth hour until an unscheduled pit stop by Brendon Hartley’s Porsche No. 20 allowed Stephane Sarrazin’s Toyota No. 7 to pull away.
Reliability proved an issue for Porsche in the opening hour when Romain Dumas’ Porsche No. 14 lost time in the garage because of a fuel-pressure problem.
In the second hour, a sudden downpour caused the crash of two contenders. Nicolas Lapierre’s Toyota No. 8 and Marco Bonanomi’s Audi No. 3 were fighting for third place when a slippery track led the Toyota to lose traction and bounce off a barrier before clipping the Audi, which got also hit by Sam Bird’s Ferrari No. 81.
The accident brought the safety car out for about 40 minutes. Lapierre was able to drive his car back to the garage to have it repaired while Bonanomi was forced to retire. The Toyota No. 8 has been dealing with balance issues since that crash.
Audi has won nine of the last 10 races at Le Mans, including the last four. A total of 54 cars started the 82nd edition of the race, which ends on Sunday at 1300 GMT.