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Le Mans 24 Hours: Hour 5 Report

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Lucas Di Grassi was the first visitor to the pits in the fifth hour, bringing the #1 Audi in for a schedules stop after three minutes. The Brazilian driver stayed aboard and in fourth place. As he was leaving, Brendon Hartley was bringing the #20 Porsche 919 in from the race lead after a 14-lap stint. The Hybrid took on fuel only and the New Zealander left the pits after 60 seconds, in third place. Marc Lieb was next in, having hauled the delayed #14 Porsche LMP1 back into the top 10.

Michel Frey still led P2 in the #34 Race Performance Oreca Judd by 11 seconds from the #35 G-Drive Ligier Nissan of Alex Brundle, with Paul-Loup Chatin third in the #36 Signatech Alpine Nissan a similar distance further back.

There was more drama in GTE-Pro 12 minutes into the hour when Alvaro Parente pulled the #52 RAM Racing over on to the grass out of Arnage and quickly jumped out and hopped the fence. A marshal ran across the track, extinguisher in hand, and proceeded to tackle the flames – not visible on the TV – in the cockpit. The class continued to be led by Tommy Milner in the #74 Corvette.

Benoit Treluyer and Stephane Sarrazin both pitted after 15 minutes – 59 laps having been completed – with Hartley regaining second from the #2 Audi but trailing the Toyota by 3.5s.

Christopher Nygaard led GTE-Am in the #98 Aston Martin, with Archie Hamilton second in the #53 RAM Ferrari and Patrick Dempsey in the #77 Porsche. Victor Shaitar in fourth in the #72 SMP Ferrari was by far the quickest man in the class, but pitted before he could make many inroads into his disadvantage to Dempsey.

The P2 lead changed hands again at the first chicane as Frey got his approach wrong and straight-lined it, handing the lead in the process to the chasing Alex Brundle. Chatin was by now just a couple of seconds behind Frey and looking poised to take second.

Parente managed to drive the troubled #52 Ferrari back to the RAM pit and the team got to work; Matt Griffin telling Radio Le Mans that they suspected that the cause of the problem was the ACO telemetry unit catching fire!

At the end of Lap 64, and just half an hour after his previous visit, Hartley brought the #20 Porsche back into the pitlane. The car took on a full set of slicks and went back out in third place. There was no obvious sign of a puncture, so this was a bit of a mystery.

Also in apparent tyre trouble was the #29 Pegasus Morgan Nissan, with Leo Roussel having to nurse the car slowly back to the pits with smoke coming from the back.

Martin Little popped down to AF Corse for a news update:

Amato Ferrari : “The main thing is we are competitive with the #51 car. The Corvette is fast, but the race is open and we are comfortable we can stay with it. We will wait until the morning and see where we are.

“For the #81 car, Sam is fine. But the accident is a disappointment because we thought there was a good chance with that car. It is one of those things that happens in racing and there is nothing you can do.”

Marco Cioci: “We had some contact – another car hit us – which put us into a spin and we lost close to two laps. But we used a different strategy by staying on slicks in the wet and taking some different lines – we just tried to stay out of trouble while others pitted and it worked for us. Now we are on the same lap as the second-placed car. Luis is out there at the moment and is pushing hard, but it is difficult to plan ahead this early. The main focus is to try to get through the night right now.”

Frankie Montecalvo: “The 8Star car is running well now. We had an earlier puncture and we spun and lost some time, but we are happy we haven’t lost out too much at this early stage. This is a big class and the thing now is to try to run clean. This is Le Mans and you have to adapt to whatever it throws at you.”

Bruno Senna in the #97 Aston Martin was taking the fight to the factory GT Porsches and split Jörg Bergmeister from Marco Holzer before completing the job to go third further round the same lap. He was now 10 seconds behind Toni Vilander in second.

Chatin took the Alpine into the P2 lead, briefly, before pitting – Brundle once more assuming the position – while moments later Di Grassi easily blew past Hartley on the approach to the Dunlop chicane for third in P1 on Lap 88. Lieb was now sixth overall and ahead of the LMP2 field in the #14 919.

As Senna closed on Vilander in the closing minutes of the fifth hour, the intra-Porsche battle was spectacular stuff. Bergmeister had taken Holzer for fourth, but was having no joy in pulling away.

The hour ended with Treluyer pitting from second and Brendon Hartley cutting the first chicane after arriving too quickly.

MH