Safety car period for a stricken Aston Martin pulled the field apart during the third four-hour stint at Le Mans. Lady Luck shone on a select few cars, leaving others with lots of time to make up.
It’s been a nightmare of a race for Aston Martin Racing. Having been plagued by issues all afternoon, the garage door closed on the #98, signalling the retirement of the Am car. The #97 in the hands of Alex Lynn found itself in the gravel in quite a high-speed incident. However, a quick full course yellow allowed him to be recovered and get back to the garage for repairs. Just as the AMR mechanics were getting busy with the black tape, disaster struck as Marco Sorensen had a nasty off in the #95. A mandatory medical centre visit for Sorensen saw the #95 stranded without a driver and thus automatically retired.
The safety car period called for the #95 introduced considerable gaps to the field. The two Toyotas were previously within touching distance on the track, but Conway gained around a minute due to the safety car. The top nine in GTE Pro field ended up split into two groups. The top two gained the advantage thanks to the safety car system, getting a minute and a half’s worth of gap to third position. We’d previously spoken about the leading pair in LMP2 frequently pitting together, almost in tandem. There is now nearly a two-minute gap between the pair. A number of teams feeling hard done by as they gained significant gaps to make up, mostly by chance.
Another safety car was brought out a few laps later for Egor Orudzhev in the #17 SMP Racing. A big off saw the Russian driver stranded in the gravel at the Porsche Curves. While this cemented some of the gaps caused by the previous safety car, it also allowed the #8 to retake the lead. Mike Conway in #7 had to pit and got stuck at the end of the pitlane waiting for the safety car train. The safety car giveth, the safety taketh away.
Just ahead of the halfway point, yet another safety car was called as a slow zone proved not enough to recover a strick ARC Bratislava Ligier. After much toing and froing over the radio, the #49 team managed to recover their car to the pitlane. A big job lies ahead for them as they examine the car to see if it’s repairable. The safety car returned to the pits just minutes before the twelve-hour mark. (Giving us a few minutes to let the dust settle before finishing this report!)
As the clock passed into the second half, the #7 Toyota in the hands of Kamui Kobayashi led the race, ahead of Sebastien Buemi in the #8. Nathaniel Berthon is behind the wheel of the #3 Rebellion currently running in third ahead of the #11, the sole remaining SMP Racing BR1. Andre Lotterer in the #1 Rebellion is running fifth but is seven laps adrift. The ByKolles is still running and is technically seventh in class, but is 55th overall. The #10 Dragonspeed has stopped and is an unofficial retirement – the car has been plagued by issues.
G-Drive Racing still has a firm grip on the lead of LMP2, ahead of the #36 Signatech Alpine. It’s the usual suspects behind them in the top five – the two Jackie Chan DC Racing Orecas and the #31 Dragonspeed. The Ligiers in the field lack the raw pace to challenge their Oreca rivals, but United Autosports are running their own race. Their aim is to get both cars across the line as the highest placed non-Oreca cars.
It’s all looking very Porsche in GTE Pro, with the German manufacturer holding three of the top five spots in the class. Leading them however is the #51 AF Corse Ferrari in the hands of Daniel Serra. The sister car sadly, the #71, was withdrawn due to engine issues. Sitting three in a row are those three Porsches – Kevin Estre’s #92 in second, Fred Makowiecki’s #91 in third and the #93 of Earl Bamber. Finishing off the top five is Mike Rockenfeller in the #63 Corvette. Three of the four Fords are running together in sixth to eighth, and are the last cars on the GTE Pro lead lap.
This might be Keating Motorsports race to lose currently, but the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche is making its way back up the order. Just the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin sits between Christian Ried and the lead that his car held in the first part of this race. Charlie Eastwood and his teammates Salih Yoluc and Euan Hankey are running a great race so far in the TF Sport and are currently the most competitively placed Aston Martin on the circuit. JMW Motorsport is running in fourth, ahead of Team Project 1 in fifth. The WeatherTech Racing Ferrari isn’t that far behind and is a car to watch as it has featured several times already in the top five.