Le Mans 24 Hours - Twelve Hour Report
As we reach the halfway point, the Toyotas remain comfortably ahead of their privateer rivals, G-Drive Racing are running incredibly well, Kevin Estre puts in a mega stint, and Ferrari breaks Porsche's GTE Am stranglehold.
That marks the halfway point (cue the Bon Jovi number.) Not much has changed at the front since our last report, though we're a few cars lighter and things aren't looking as solid for Porsche in GTE Am.
Much of the same at the head of the field, though mild drama for Toyota as the #8 car picked up a 60-second stop-and-go penalty for speeding in a slow zone. This dropped the #8 around two minutes behind the sister car, but Fernando Alonso has been doing his best to close the gap.
Heartbreak for the SMP Racing team who have already lost loads of time with the #11 entry, as Matevos Isaakyan spun the #17 car at the Porsche Curves. The stricken BR1 was dragged out of the way, and Isaakyan was quickly tearing off bodywork trying desperately to get the thing moving again. Eventually, he was successful, but the car wasn't having any of it and promptly started billowing out smoke - signalling the end of the #17 BR1.
There've been more issues for CEFC TRSM too. Both Ginettas spent significant time in the garage for seemingly different issues. An electrical fault has led to the apparent demise of the #6, while the #5 ended up having repairs done to the front as well as an illuminated number panel replacement before rejoining.
There isn't a massive amount to talk about in LMP2 - the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca seems to be untouchable at the moment. If a couple of the LMP1s at the front have problems, this crew could well be on for a podium.
Second and third has been frequently exchanged by the #36 Signatech Alpine and the #23 Panis-Barthez Competition Ligier. As we drew closer to the halfway mark, a fantastic battle was brewing between Timothe Buret (#23) and Nicolas Lapierre (#36).
Further down the order, Nabil Jeffri in the Fortune Cat #37 has impressed us with some solid laptimes - frequently lapping quicker than any of the cars around him, Jackie Chan DC Racing appear to have come across a super silver! A nice consolation considering the dramas they've had so far.
We had a couple of slow zones thanks to misplaced LMP2 entries. Mark Patterson in the #25 Algarve Pro Racing had a small incident down towards Mulsanne Corner, while the #31 Dragonspeed came to a stop bringing out a sector one slow zone a little while later.
While nothing's really been changing at the front of GTE Pro - apart from Kevin Estre being in a class of his own, there's been a bit of drama behind the leading Porsches.
Nick Tandy brought the #93 Porsche into the pits during hour 9, and the American entered 911 was wheeled back into the garage. We didn't see it again until gone midnight, with Tandy saying that electrical issues had struck the car. The team also confirmed the retirement of the sister #94 Porsche, ending the race for Romain Dumas, Timo Bernhard and Sven Muller.
Another car that found its way into the garage was the #81 BMW M8 GTE which had been running brilliantly. Reports differed as to the actual damage, but the brakes received some extensive work, and just before 1 am local time, the #81 rejoined in the hands of Philipp Eng (leaving a trail of some sort of fluid in its wake.) Though it wasn't long before the BMW was back in the pitlane as they were handed a drive-through penalty for fuelling the car while it was still up on the dolly jacks.
Other than the #68 in third place, we've not really seen much from the Fords, they've sort of spread themselves out amongst the field. Though during the nighttime hours, the #67 crew stuck Harry Tincknell in the car and he started on a charge. At the end of hour 9, the #67 was down 8th in class, and about an hour and a half later, they'd passed their teammates in the #69 and got themselves up into 5th.
It's also worth noting that having started behind a couple of GTE Am entries, the #95 Aston Martin Vantage has made its way up to 9th in class, and is ahead of all of the GTE Am entries.
If you've only been looking at our hourly Twitter updates, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it's been the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche at the top for the last four hours. While it is true that the team have spent a large amount of time at the front, they've shared that duty with both the JMW Motorsport and Keating Motorsport Ferraris.
A bizarre incident brought the #90 TF Sport into the pits - they had a car without a bonnet!
This article was originally published on Overtake Motorsport.
Shared with permission from the author.
Cover Image: Toyota Gazoo Racing