The lead squabble continued throughout the seventh hour of the race as the sun began to set over the Circuit de la Sarthe. Audi’s pace continued to be too quick for Porsche to match, as the #9 with Rast driving took full control.
Leena Gade’s communications with the #7 Audi from pit wall began to play up, only working down the pit straight to add further difficulties for the R18 which had already had to recover from a slow puncture in the opening hours.
Webber’s lead when the top three were out of sync was around 10 seconds, as he tried everything to match the pace of the #7 and #9 behind, using an extra tyre stop for the #7 as extra breathing room. But the damage was done, as Rast held the lead as the cars entered the eighth hour of the race, Webber trailing by 13 seconds in second place when the frontrunners had all completed eight pit stops.
Nissan’s hour was plagued by issues with overheating brake discs, which forced the #21 and #23 into their garages for extended periods of time.
Patterson pitted just into the new hour from third, and lost the place to Capillaire in the #36, and then surrendered fourth to Bird in the #26, so rejoined the race in a class fifth.
Vanthoor, who had just taken over in the #34 Oak Ligier, set the car’s fastest lap of 3:349.601, while Howson passed the third-placed Signatech Alpine to add another lap to his class-leading advantage over the #36.
At 20 past the hour, the #46 Thiriet by TDS Oreca pitted from second, with further pitstops shortly afterwards for #43 Team Sard Morand and the #28 G-Drive Ligier.
The half hour was marked by a driver change for the #42 Strakka Dome, with Leventis handing over to Kane. That had been Nick’s longest-ever run on Dunlops, and he apparently felt he had really started to exploit the brakes for the first time. With a much better understanding of the car, he did his fastest lap of the week.
Five minutes later and it was Howson’s turn for a pitstop. Fuel only this time, and after a smooth and efficient pause, the #47 was back out again and comfortably retaining the lead.
Another fastest lap for Vanthoor in the #34; a 3:38.727. It was his final lap ahead of a fuel stop and he’d made the most of the lighter load. Even so, the visit to the pitlane cost him fairly dearly, and he dropped to eleventh on resuming the race, 20 seconds behind Patterson in the #48 Murphy Oreca. Simultaneously, Bird brought the #26 G-Drive in for fuel, but resumed in 5th without losing position.
At 10 minutes before the end of the hour, Patterson brought the #48 back in for Berthon’s second turn aboard the #48. The Frenchman resumed in a class sixth.
Meanwhile, back at the bottom of the Esses, Hirsch had walked away from the #41, so it was race over for Greaves, with something as feeble as a battery terminal apparently the cause of the retirement.
End of the hour: #47 leading from #46, with the #36 up one slot in the hour, swapping with the #26. Fifth for the #43, followed by the #48 (four positions lower than it had been an hour previously) and the #28. The #38 in eighth had swapped, one place to the good, with #42, and the #34 had exchanged places with the #27.
GTE Pro & Am
News was received about the two cars that had spent time in the pits: Aston Martin had their #95 car in fixing a power steering problem, while the #71 AF Corse Ferrari that had clawed its way up the Pro field was back in its box, losing 17 minutes with a starter motor problem.
At the front of the Pro battle, the lead position had cycled between the #99 and #97 Aston Martins, interrupted by a strong and consistent Taylor in the #64 Corvette, who ended up re-asserting the lead as the hour finished. Turner’s #97 Aston was now in the hands of Bell, running second on the road. The #99 Aston now had MacDowall aboard after a great stint by Rees, the car standing third after the pit stop period had settled.
Lamy was back aboard the #98 GTE Am Aston Martin and leading the category with comfortable cushion to the #83 AF Corse Ferrari now in the capable hands of Collard. But it was Griffin that was fastest on track in Am, pushing the #55 Ferrari back up the order, currently seventh in class.
Standings after seven hours:
GTE Pro: #64 Corvette, #97 Aston, #99 Aston
GTE Am: #98 Aston, #83 Ferrari, #72 Ferrari