Le Mans 24 Hours - Four Hour Report
Four hours have passed at the Circuit de la Sarthe and as we expected the Toyotas are marching ahead at the front. There's been drama aplenty, and for some, it's not been plain sailing.
The 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours kicked off in style with drama before the green flag dropped! Tom Dillmann in the #4 ByKolles CLM failed to get off the grid as the procedures began, and in a desperate attempt to catch up with the field, spun the car on cold Michelins into the Dunlop Curves. A few reports of rain came through during the opening four hours, and despite the track being declared wet, the weather hasn't affected running so far.
The ACO brought in tennis superstar Rafael Nadal to start this year's race, and what a start it was. Plenty of contact in the LMP1 field as Andre Lotterer's #1 Rebellion shed its nose - possibly due to contact with one of the Toyotas; which in turn got under the feet of the #10 Dragonspeed. Alex Brundle in the #6 CEFC TRSM Ginetta briefly appeared as high up as fifth before being shuffled back down the order.
Buemi and Conway started the #8 and #7 Toyotas respectively and continued to exchange the lead throughout the first four hours. Conway handed over to Pechito, while Buemi switched with Alonso and the exchange at the head of the field continued. It didn't take long for the two hybrid LMP1s to be a lap clear of the first non-privateers.
Best of the rest looks set to be a battle between the #17 SMP Racing and the two Rebellion R13s, following a fantastic recovery drive from the #1 crew. The second SMP Racing BR1 has spent a considerable amount of time in the pits as they try to determine what is wrong with the car - things aren't going well for a particular British F1 champion's Le Mans debut. Talking of things not going well, it's been a rough go so far for CEFC TRSM and their pair of Ginettas. The #6 car had an issue during the first hour, leading Brundle to limp it back to the pitlane and eventually rejoin well down the order, with a stop and go penalty for their troubles thanks to Brundle spinning the wheels on his pit exit. There hasn't been that much news regarding the #5, but it's nowhere near its privateer rivals.
The #48 IDEC Sport Oreca may have taken pole position, but it's been the orange #26 G-Drive Racing entry that seems to have a chokehold on the LMP2 lead. Jean-Eric Vergne started in the Russian entered Oreca, and has been putting a large number of his rivals to shame - at times lapping more than two seconds quicker than the rest of the LMP2 field. The Panis-Barthez Competition Ligier has been punching well above its weight so far, featuring as high up as third in class - it's refreshing to see a Ligier doing so well against the mighty Orecas.
Troubles for two of the Jackie Chan DC Racing cars, with the #37 being wheeled into the garage within the first hour and a pair of front punctures for the Mighty 38. The second puncture for Gabriel Aubry in the #38 brought out the race's first safety car as marshals scrambled to clear up the large amounts of debris shed by the Oreca 07.
Also having wheel-related adventures was Nat Berthon in the #31 Dragonspeed. Seemingly out of the blue, Berthon's Oreca shed his front right wheel between Indianapolis and Arnage. United Autosports were also having to do some quick repair work on their #22 Ligier - a seven-minute stop to replace the car's GPS aerial dropped the car down the order.
The extra weight ballast doesn't seem to be stopping the Porsche GT team on their quest for domination. The #91 and #92 have barely been out of the top three, often swapping places between themselves. And if they have dropped further down the order, it's been down to pit stops, and the only cars seemingly able to challenge them are the #69 Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA entry and towards the four-hour mark, the #81 BMW M8.
All across the class however, we've been treated to a plethora of cracking overtakes and on track battles, so despite the Porsches still sort of running away at the moment, the BoP seems to be mostly doing its job. Mostly. The first four hours have not been kind to the new Aston Martin Racing Vantages - with 11 of 17 GTE Pro cars setting best laps in the 3:50s, the two AMRs haven't gone quicker than a 3:52.
The #64 Corvette and #51 Ferrari have spent their fair share of time in the pits. The Corvette suffered front suspension damage, while the Ferrari was one of the several so far this race to suffer a puncture.
The spread of manufacturers has been somewhat more even in GTE Am, with at least one of the other marques joining the Porsches in the top three at any given time. The #86 Gulf Racing Porsche had a strong start and was leading at the end of the first hour. However, during the second hour, following Ben Barker's handover to Mike Wainwright, the #86 had a rendezvous with the tyre wall at Indianapolis. This brought out a slow zone for sector two while marshals carried out barrier repairs, but did allow Wainwright to get the Gulf Porsche back to the pits. The Dempsey-Proton Porsches currently look like the cars to beat, both the #77 and #88 have led portions of this race so far, but the #54 Spirit of Race, #84 JMW Ferraris and the #98 Aston Martin Racing have been keeping them in check.
This article was originally published on Overtake Motorsport.
Shared with permission from the author.
Cover Image: FIA WEC/JEP