Allan McNish was left distraught after missing out on a third Le Mans victory following a crash while leading three hours from the end of the 24-hour race.
McNish and co-drivers Tom Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello finished second as Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer retained the title.
"Absolutely devastated for our team," said McNish after finishing behind the other Audi e-tron Quattro hybrid.
The Scot had ended up in the barriers as he looked to build his lead.
"Rinaldo, Tom, the engineers, mechanics, did a superb job throughout the race and we came back from a couple of problems," said McNish, who crashed out of last year's race.
"We were in a good position, fighting for the victory and I came up through the Porsche curves, where it narrows, and there was a slower car, a GT, and I expected him to bleed out to the right, which he didn't do - and I'm not sure, to be honest, why.
"But, the next thing, I was going backwards, or spinning, and it spun and touched the barrier with the right front, which then spun the car around and it required a wee bit of suspension and nose damage, which obviously put us two laps down, which is a huge, huge disappointment."
McNish's team finished more than a lap behind their sister car, with Audi filling all the podium places after the R18 Ultra of Marci Bonanomi, Oliver Jarvis and Mike Rockenfeller third, while the second R18 Ultra was fifth, behind the number 12 Lola-Toyota.
After the number one car had led for much of the opening half of the 80th running of the race, the lead switched several times between the two e-tron Quattros through the night.
McNish's team had started fourth but were challenging for the lead with the sister e-tron Quattro despite an unscheduled pit-stop in the opening few hours.
Once the sun rose after a night of cat-and-mouse, both leading cars were involved in minor incidents.
With four hours to go Capello pitted and switched with McNish, who exited the pits and fed back onto the track less than three seconds behind Treluyer in the leading e-tron Quattro.
When Treluyer made a scheduled stop, McNish took over control of the race with the problems continuing for the number one car as it spun when entering the pit lane.
However, McNish, targeting his first victory since 2008, fell a lap behind the sister car and the safety car was required to clear the debris and fix the shunted barrier.
Despite Audi's dramas, they were largely untroubled at the head of the field after their main threat, that of the Toyota Racing TS030 hybrid, lost both of their cars before the halfway stage.
Anthony Davidson was involved in a massive accident during the opening quarter of the race that left the English driver with a broken back.
However, Scotsman Ryan Dalziel and Englishman Tom Kimber-Smith, along with Venezuela's Vincente Potolicchio, won the LMP2 class race in Starworks Motorsport's Honda.
Englishman Martin Brundle, who won the overall race in 1990, was racing at Le Mans for the first time in 11 years with his son, Alex, and Spaniard Lucas Ordonez in LMP2 and finished a respectable eighth in class.
The AF Corse Ferrari, driven by ex-Formula one driver Giancarlo Fisichella with Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander, won the LMGTE class by a considerable margin.