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Le Mans 24 Hours: Hour 20 Report, Porsche Consolidating

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LMP1

The 20th hour was a relatively quiet one for the front-runners. With just four hours left to run in the race, Porsche look poised for a victory, holding on to first and second spot with the #19 and #17 respectively. Audi’s #9 held third, but the #7 and #8 in fourth and fifth continued to slip away.

Nissan’s challenging but successful debut continued to have the occasional high point. Harry Tincknell in the heavily delayed #22 Nissan down in 44th place was still plodding on. He set a 3:35.888, which was the fastest lap the GT-R LM NISMO had ever managed at that point round La Sarthe.

The #7 Audi was booked at the end of the hour for disrespecting the Slow Zone procedure when Fassler tried un-lapping himself while the Dome was stranded on the pit-wall. It meant the car was just 33 seconds ahead of the fifth place #8 Audi after serving the drive-through penalty.

LMP2

The twentieth hour started with drama for Murphy, with Mark Patterson spinning at Mulsanne and so nearly being heavily collected by Milner in the class-leading Corvette. The glancing blow resulted in minor damage to both cars – more minor for the Corvette, though, as it turned out. The Corvette pitted first, but it was a regular stop for the #64. The return trip took Patterson a bit longer, but despite evident damage to the rear left quarter, he pressed on past the pits and continued for another lap.

Next tour round and Patterson came into the pitlane, perhaps for a scheduled stop but also now one that would allow for the replacement of the rear deck.

10:10 and news arrived from the Strakka camp that Nick had given up his attempts to get the Dome moving again and the #42 was the latest LMP2 retirement. The issue had been gearshift related, the car initially being stuck in fourth. After the car stopped Nick managed to find neutral, but then couldn’t reselect a forward gear. Without suitable tools the team was forced to accept that the course had been run.

Mark Patterson’s scheduled pitstop ended up being anything but … and as the minutes ticked by, the #48 steadily slipped down the order. By twenty-past the hour the Murphy Oreca was showing as 6th, with the #34 Oak Ligier (Vanthoor aboard) had moved ahead. Meanwhile Jon Fogarty in the #31 was running well, and had posted a new fastest lap for the ESM Ligier of 3:42.890. Two positions further back and Nicolet was still pedal to the floor in the #35, and had also clocked a new personal best, albeit a more gentlemanly 3:46.214. It was his final lap before a pitstop.

It transpired that Murphy didn’t have a spare back end readily to hand, but Oreca found one for them, and the crew was working double-time to get the fresh deck ready for fitting.

At the half hour the standings in P2 were as follows:

#47 KCMG leading by just over two minutes from the #26 G-Drive Ligier, Rusinov at the wheel. The gap to Evans in the Jota Gibson, third, was a further 50 seconds. A massive three-lap gap extended between Jota and the next-placed G-Drive Ligier, the #28 being driven by Ricardo Gonzalez. A modest, and achievable, sixteen seconds then stood between Gonzalez, fourth, and Vanthoor in the #34 Oak Racing Ligier fifth.

At 10:35 the Murphy Oreca rejoined the race. Despite being yet to complete his minimum four hours, Patterson stepped out of the #48 and handed over driving duties to Nathanaël Berthon. The young Frenchman rejoined the race in sixth, and promptly set a new fastest lap for the #48 of 3:39.238.

Twenty minutes before the end of the hour and a scheduled pitstop for the #47 KCMG Oreca, leading P2. Richard Bradley stayed aboard and rejoined with his comfortable lead largely intact, a generous 46 seconds still remaining. The same could not be said for Rusinov’s advantage over Evans. Having stood at 50 seconds just a quarter of an hour previously, it had now been slashed to nearer 34, and that without a pitstop. The #38 Jota was, once again, showing its pace. Without the earlier gear-selection problem then last year’s P2 winners might have been in with a good shout … and may yet still be.

Fresh to the lead #47, Nicolas Lapierre was swiftly up to speed, and his second lap was a flyer, crossing the line after 3:37.432, a new fastest lap for the KCMG Oreca, although not quite quick enough to take the class best from Jota.

10:55 and Evans took second place from Rusinov, only then to pit immediately, relinquishing the position after less than a lap. It was a quick pitstop, and with five hours still to go, every chance of making it stick next time. A little further back, Vanthoor had also moved forward, taking Gonzalez for 4th and easing out a ten second lead inside a couple of laps. Berthon, circulating two seconds a lap (or more) quicker than these two, was catching both. There was still plenty more entertainment to come from LMP2.

The hour concluded with the slightly bizarre screen message that the track was declared “wet”, although no rain had yet been detected. Was this a ploy to allow the teams access to more tyre options … or did Race Control know something about the weather that wasn’t yet apparent over the circuit.

LMP2 Class order at the end of the hour: #47, #26, #38, #34, #28, #48, #27, #31, #45, #35, #29

GTE Am & Pro

The stand-off for fourth place in GTE Pro was visible as Marco Sorensen’s Aston Martin led Olivier Beretta’s #71 Ferrari 458 by just two seconds, before the Aston’s pit stop intervened. At the front of the class Tommy Milner’s Corvette was keeping up enough pressure over the #51 Ferrari to peg the lead at just over 10 seconds, Bergmeister’s Porsche slowly reducing his third place deficit to under 1 min 30s. The #91 car seemed solid and with the best part of a 1000km race left to go a works Porsche should never be ignored.

GTE Am got a shake up at the top as the lead chasing #72 SMP Ferrari overdid it on the way into Indianapolis. The car was deep in the gravel and had either carried too much speed or missed its braking point. Either way, Viktor Shaytar sat impassively as his ‘458 Italia while the snatch vehicles did their thing. Returning to the pits for inspection, two laps were lost but surprisingly not his second place. Shaytar got back on the pace but Segal and Seefried’s battle further back  for the final podium position was a developing feature: Segal’s American entered #62 Ferrari was down to seventeen seconds behind the #77 Porsche before Seefried pitted it to hand over to Pat Long and their places swapped. Now this would get interesting.

But not as much as the GTE Pro lead, Bruni had the crosshairs fixed on Milner’s Corvette, whose lead was now down to 1.5 seconds before both cars pitted.

Standings:

GTE Pro:
#64 Corvette: Milner 277 Laps
#51 AF Ferrari: Bruni; – 1.5s
#91 Porsche: Bergmeister; – 1:09

GTE Am:
#98 Aston: Lauda
#72 SMP Ferrari: Shaytar; – 2 laps
#77 Porsche: Segal; -1:29

SK / MP / ML