Porsche still led with the #17 after the safety car created breathing room, but by the end of the hour that was almost all gone. The #9 and #7 Audis were quicker and continuing to close in on the leading 919.
As the fifth hour began, the Toyotas were starting to lap quicker than they had previously, the #1 of Davidson managing 3:22.9, with Sarrazin completing a 3:22.5 in the #2. Crucially though, that’s still roughly four seconds off the Audi and Porsche pace.
Hartley was on the prowl early, attempting to lap the eighth-place recovering #8 Audi of Di Grassi. The Brazilian wouldn’t go down without a fight, however, unlapping himself again almost immediately going down the Esses. Hartley had to wait for him to pit before he could get ahead.
Albuquerque was picking up Audi’s slack in the #9 though, and set a new Le Mans race lap record of 3:17.647 while tracking down the leader. It was a stunning display of driving just before the #9’s fifth stop of the race, tracking down the New Zealander before diving in.
The first mid-race troubles hit the Nissan camp during the hour. The #21 with Shulzhitskiy driving spent a considerable amount of time in the garage. Leading the three Nissans was the #22 meanwhile which continued to go round and round just inside the top 20 with Krumm driving.
Towards the end of the hour, Di Grassi’s recovery drive in the #8 Audi continued as he moved ahead of Sarrazin’s #8 Toyota to snatch seventh overall. The lead gap was also reduced to around five seconds, with Hartley just about holding off Albuquerque’s charge in what is still an out-of-sync cycle for the pair up front.
The thrilling battle for the overall lead hid the fact that the situation in LMP2 was far more settled. Lapierre, then in the KCMG cockpit, continued to enjoy a lengthening lead in the #47, from Badey in the #46, second after an extended pitstop for the #34 Oak Ligier, which subsequently dropped down to 8th in the class. Vanthoor later reported that the car had to be brought into the garage to have the underfloor checked, one assumes after grounding across some kerbs somewhere.
This allowed Chandhok to firm up the Murphy Oreca’s grip on fourth, no longer reliant on the apparently better fuel economy of the #48 car. The gap, though, between the Murphy Prototypes Oreca and the #41 Greaves Gibson in third stood at more than 40 seconds. Nearly half a minute behind Chandhok was Panciatici in the Signatech Alpine (5th) and then Amberg in the #43.
Looking back down the P2 order, the #37 SMP BR01 continued to languish at the back of the field, more than twenty laps down on the class lead in 53rd overall, but back in the race. Ho-Pin Tung in the #29 Pegasus Racing Morgan was also still running, 45th overall after losing four laps, but powering through the GT Ferraris and Porsches around him. His lap times were among some of the quickest in the class.
Battling amid the GT leaders was a quartet of P2 cars, with Nicolet in the #35 Oak Racing Ligier holding 33rd (15th in class) by a mere second from Bellarosa in the #45 Ibanez, running more strongly than it had all race. (He pitted shortly afterwards, but had come close to claiming a worthy scalp before he did). The #40 Krohn Ligier, Jonsson in the cockpit, eased ahead of the pitting #45, and so too did Van Overbeek in the #31 ESM Ligier, 36th overall.
Dunlop revealed that there are hugely differing strategies being employed in LMP2, with three widely varied compounds being employed simultaneously by the by the teams.
At the half hour, the order at the pointy end of LMP2 was: #47 (10th overall), #46, #41, #36, #48, #43, #34, #26, #42, #28 and #38 eleventh (22nd overall). They’d covered 64 laps compared with 70 by the race-leading #17 Porsche.
At quarter-to the Greaves Gibson #41 pitted from second, and rejoined after a smooth and faultless stop in third. A couple of minutes later the #34 also visited the pitlane, from 7th in class, and rejoined in eighth.
The race pace in P2 seemed very strong, with several cars consistently posting times towards the lower end of the three-forties. Chandhok, Panciatici and Yacoman (in the #28 G-Drive) as well as Ho-Pin Tung (#45) are all lapping in the three forty-twos and threes. Lapierre, however, was still throwing down the fastest laps aboard the #47, and consistently ducked under the 40-second mark.
Five minutes from the top of the hour we had pitstops for the #46 (from third) and the #36 (from fourth). Thiriet held on to his third place, but Chandhok moved through to take fourth from Panciatici. The hour ended with the #43 diving into the pitlane for a routine stop, and allowing the #26 to ease up to sixth. The top ten in LMP2 stood as follows: #47, #41, #46, #48, #36, #26, #43, #34, #42, #28 and #27.
GTE Pro & Am
GTE Pro grabbed the limelight here, as it so readily does. At the start of the hour Turner was pushing Milner’s Corvette for the class lead for two laps before the young American slowed slightly going into the first chicane. Turner’s relative speed behind could not be contained and the Aston Martin squirmed on the brakes, sending the multi-coloured art car into a spin, its driver heading across the gravel and through the tyre barriers to rejoin with no harm done.
This therefore gave the leading Corvette some breathing space, but the fight behind between Rees’ Aston and Rigon’s Ferrari was still very much on and closing in, Rees had taken back second for the red-and-yellow V8 Vantage.
The leader of the Am class was also having a bumpy ride: Shaytar had a nudge from the #18 LMP1 Porsche and was unsettled, running on to the gravel before rejoining the track with only slight loss of time. His lead was still a comfortable four seconds over the following #98 Aston, still with Dalla Lana at the helm. The earlier leading Viper now had Keating aboard, who was holding a 1.5-second gap back to Perrodo’s Ferrari.
Rigon took a pit stop, elevating Turner (who was flying again and had passed Fisichella) to third in Pro. Rees meanwhile had reeled in the Corvette and was starting to look threatening for Milner’s lead. The move came into the first chicane as the #99 Aston made the most of the hole in the air from a passing P2 car. Battle joined, Milner fought back into the lead before Indianapolis, at the end of which lap Rees pitted.
Beretta was now aboard the #71 AF Corse Ferrari, some way adrift of the main GTE Pro battle and starting to notice Christensen’s #91 Porsche four seconds behind and slowly improving.
Dalla Lana continued the #98’s early/out-of sync pit strategy, handing to Lauda who rejoined in third. Though the GTE Am pace was starting to ease a little and the field spreading out, its leader Shaytar was still punching in good sector times. A 3:58.423 was his fastest lap of the race, extending his lead to over half a minute to the SRT Viper, before handing the car to Basov with a two-second lead as the car rejoined.
This wouldn’t last long though: a lap later Lauda led GTE Am and really started to pull a gap, 17 seconds by the end of the hour as the famous name demonstrated an eight-seconds-per-lap speed advantage over Basov.
Aguas had a brief off after his out lap in the #83 Am-class AF Corse Ferrari as the latest round of stops settled down. A personal best of 3:59.939 was set as the hour drew to a close, the Ferrari running fourth.
Leaders after five hours:
GTE Pro: #64 Corvette, #99 Aston, #97 Aston
GTE Am: #98 Aston, #72 Ferrari, #53 Viper