Allan McNish walks away from crash
LE MANS, France -- Audi's chances of defending its title at the 24 Hours of Le Mans rested on one car after two of the team's other contenders crashed Saturday.
After 16 hours, Peugeot Sport Total's Sebastien Bourdais led with 232 laps completed.
Peugeot teammate Marc Gene was 30 seconds back, and the last remaining Audi, driven at the time by Andre Lotterer, was third.
Defending champion Mike Rockenfeller was second in the eighth hour when he tried to pass the slower Ferrari No. 71 driven by Robert Kauffman.
Rockenfeller's Audi No. 1 was slightly hit by the Ferrari, slid off the track in darkness and smashed into a guardrail, forcing the deployment of the safety car for the second time in the race.
The German driver was able to get out of the cockpit on his own before the wrecked car caught fire. He was taken to a hospital.
Audi also lost a car when Allan McNish's Audi No. 3 collided with a Ferrari barely 50 minutes after the start.
McNish, in second place, was attempting to overtake the slower Ferrari No. 58 driven by Anthony Beltoise -- who was trailing by two laps -- when the Audi No. 3 banged into the Ferrari before crashing against a pile of tires and disintegrating into pieces.
"I have absolutely no idea what happened," Beltoise said. "I didn't even see the Audi coming up behind me. The impact was very heavy."
The spectacular crash led to the neutralization of the race behind the safety car so that the debris could be cleared.
McNish escaped unhurt and got out of his cockpit to walk away from the track. The Scottish driver was taken to a medical center as a precaution and then went to a hospital for further checks.
"The Ferrari closed the door, Allan had no chance whatsoever," Audi Sport director Wolfgang Ullrich said. "He went off very quickly, but luckily managed to get out of the car unharmed. To see that the cars are so strong is good, but that's not the way we like to demonstrate it."
Audi has clinched six of the last seven titles at Le Mans, but Peugeot won the race in 2009.
A total of 56 cars started the 79th edition of the French endurance race, which will end on Sunday afternoon.
As of the 16th hour, 17 cars had dropped out of the race.
Audi took the top three spots last year.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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