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Toyota's British driver Anthony Davidson has suffered a broken back after a huge crash in the Le Mans 24-Hour endurance race while champions Audi led into the early hours of Sunday in 1-2-3 formation.
After 14 hours, the No.1 Audi with Germany's Andre Lotterer at the wheel was more than two minutes ahead of the No.2 driven by twice winner Allan McNish.
The number four Audi was in third place, ahead of the number 12 Toyota-powered Lola.
At the start McNish jumped Toyota's Stephane Sarrazin off the line and then took second place from Loic Duval, in an Audi R18 Ultra. McNish who was involved in a spectacular crash last year, lost focus when he rumbled across the grass at Tertre Rouge but stayed in control of his car.
Frenchman Duval had to make successive stops and dropped to fifth between the two hybrid Toyotas of Austrian Alex Wurz in third and Sarrazin in fourth.
In the LMP2 category, France's Olivier Pla held the lead for the Oak Racing team with former Le Mans winner and ex-Formula One driver Martin Brundle 17th in the Zytek Z11SN.
INTO THE TYRES AT MULSANNE CORNER
Davidson was taken to hospital after his Toyota tagged a Ferrari sports-car he was lapping in an accident that brought out the safety car with five hours gone.
The Toyota took off and twisted 360 degrees through the air before plunging into the tyre barriers at Mulsanne Corner at the end of the fast Mulsanne straight where cars reach speeds of more than 330km/h.
The 33-year-old, an ex-Formula One driver and Grand Prix analyst for Sky television, climbed out of the No.8 car and gesticulated before receiving treatment from the medical team at the Sarthe circuit.
The Ferrari hit the barriers and overturned but Italian driver Piergiuseppe Perazzini was also able to extricate himself.
Toyota said Davidson had been walking and talking normally before being taken to hospital, but the Briton later confirmed the extent of his injuries from the crash on his Twitter site.
“Well that was a big one! Lying in a French hospital with a broken back wasn't what I had in mind at this stage in the race,” he said.
SWOPPING THE LEAD
Moments before Davidson's crash, Nicolas Lapierre in the No.7 Toyota petrol-hybrid had taken the lead from Audi's No.1 R18 diesel-hybrid driven at the time by fellow Frenchman Treluyer.
The pair swapped places more than once before the Toyota racer made the move stick.
But with the safety car out on the track, Audi and Toyota then took the opportunity to swap their drivers and Switzerland's Fassler returned the Audi to the lead.
Former Formula One driver Kazuki Nakajima had slotted into second place in the Toyota ahead of Audi's Italian Rinaldo Capello after five hours but his car then suffered a puncture and bodywork damage after a collision with the revolutionary DeltaWing car.
Re-joining, Nakajima had to make a further pit-stop to change the alternator and replace the rear brakes. After 14 hours they had fallen to 48th of the 56 entrants.
The number three Audi R18 Ultra had moved up to fifth after dropping back to 24th hours earlier when Romain Dumas put it into the tyre barriers in an earlier crash.
The Frenchman frantically dug the Audi out of the tyre wall and nursed the damaged car back to the pits.
LMP2 CARS SEVENTH AND EIGHTH
In the LMP2 category, the number 44 HPD was highest placed in seventh with the number 49 Oreca in eighth.
Le Mans debutant Alex Brundle, partnering his father and 1990 Le Mans winner Martin, was 16th in the Zytek Z11SN.
The Nissan-powered DeltaWing suffered gearbox and fuelling problems and retired after seven hours following the collision.
Scottish driver Marino Franchitti, brother of Inadianapolis 500 winner Dario, who had yet to get behind the wheel, said: “It's a shame because we had been running well, setting respectable times and things were going well.
“Having spent so much time developing it, I'm gutted I haven't been able to race it - that hurts.”
The sleek car, reminiscent of a 'Batmobile', had been invited to race at Le Mans to showcase new technologies, including a smaller engine and closely-aligned front wheels, only 100mm wide.
Audi won the 2011 race with a diesel-powered car, their 10th victory in the past 12 years at the event.
This year's Le Mans 24 Hours is the 80th edition of the sports-car classic at the Circuit de la Sarthe. - Reuters