A dash of rain, some off-road excursions and a questionable bit of contact spiced up hours five to eight at Le Mans. Toyota still leads in LMP1, Signatech Alpine leads LMP2, while Porsche and Keating Motorsport leads GTE Pro and Am.
As hour eight draws to a close, this stint of the 24-hour marathon turned up the drama level. Three safety cars, some slow zones and full course yellows cluttered the last four hours but did wonders for the running order.
Just ahead of the end of the fifth hour, a full course yellow was thrown to recover Francesco Castellacci’s #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari. A big spin sent the Italian into the gravel at Porsche Curves. Not long after Castellaci’s FCY was withdrawn, the safety car was brought out. John Farano in the #43 RLR MSport found himself in a gravel trap and needed recovering. Farano made it back to the pitlane and is currently running 18th in class, or 26th overall.
The second safety car came towards the end of hour six. The #64 Corvette had a significant off following contact with Satoshi Hoshin (who was having a mare of a race) in the #88 Dempsey-Proton Porsche. Marcel Fassler in the Corvette ended up in the barrier with a very broken car, and Hoshino very nearly followed suit. Fassler did go to the medical centre but did so without assistance. The #88 managed to get back to the garage, but both cars ended up retiring.
Shortly after singing his praises for a monster move on Mikael Aleshin’s #11 SMP Racing BR1, Thomas Laurent piled into the barriers along the Mulsanne. A full course yellow was initially thrown but turned into a full safety car period as repairs to the barriers were needed. Laurent managed to return to the pitlane under his own steam, followed by Aleshin who’d picked up some of Laurent’s very bright bodywork. Despite substantial looking damage to the #3 Rebellion, the team got the car turned around very quickly and were back out within five minutes. The safety car was withdrawn not long after, but with slow zones in place to repair the damage to barriers. Following the third safety car period, the pack was well and truly bunched up. The Toyotas saw the gap between them diminish from almost a minute to less than 20 seconds, while less than ten seconds separated the top nine in GTE Pro.
So who sits where?
As the eighth hour drew to a close, it was the #8 Toyota with Kazuki Nakajima on board leading the race. Nakajima was capitalising on a few little mistakes from teammate Jose Maria Lopez, including a quick skip across the gravel for the #7. The incident for Thomas Laurent dropped the #3 Rebellion into fifth in class, behind the #17 and #11 SMP entries. The second Rebellion is running in sixth, a few laps behind while the ByKolles and Dragonspeed are 57th and 60th overall, respectively.
The top two in LMP2 may as well have been joined at the hip for this stint. The #26 G-Drive Racing and #36 Signatech Alpine have been running together and even pitting together through these four hours, swapping the lead occasionally too. At the end of hour eight, the Russian G-Drive squad had a firm grip on the lead following a round of pitstops. As per usual, Signatech and G-Drive pitted together, but the #47 Cetilar Villorba Corse had to squeeze in between the two to reach its pit box, clipping the Alpine in the process. Still, a long way to go though! Behind the top pair, currently sits the #31 Dragonspeed in third, with the two Jackie Chan DC Racing Orecas behind. The #22 United Autosports briefly featured in the top five, but a penalty dropped them down to sixth.
GTE Pro remained the class to watch, particularly following the safety car periods. The majority of the cars are still running on the same lap – a testament to how close this class is. Currently leading is Kevin Estre in the #92 Porsche, with an 11.5-second lead. There are four manufacturers in the top five in GTE Pro with Porsche, Corvette, Ferrari and Ford featured. Second in class is the sole remaining Corvette, in the hands of Antonio Garcia. Garcia sits ahead of Alessandro Pier Guidi in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari. Nipping at Pier Guidi’s heels is Harry Tincknell in the #67 Ford GT. Fifth in class is a little further back, but it’s another Ford in the hands of Richard Westbrook.
The one and only customer Ford GT of Keating Motorsports is having a great debut race. Having led GTE Am for quite a while now, and being the only car on the lead lap in GTE Am, Ben Keating can be proud of what his team has achieved so far. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche has dropped down the order to fourth having looked so unshakeable early in the race. Second in GTE Am belongs to the Ferrari of JMW Motorsport – the only Ferrari in the top five. Team Project 1 and TF Sport finish off the top five, in third and fifth positions respectively.