As rain clouds began to drift towards the circuit, Dolan was reeling in his fellow gentleman driver Barthez at the head of the field, getting the gap between the leading Panis-Barthez Ligier and his own G-Drive Gibson down under 10 seconds by lap 60.
Making progress after the stops was Julien Canal in the Greaves Ligier, who was up to third ahead of Tracy Krohn aboard his eponymous green Ligier. The #32 SMP BR01 was running fifth in the hands of Julian Leal Corvelli, ahead of sixth-place Patrice Lafargue, who’d taken over the IDEC Sport Ligier from starting driver Dimitri Enjalbert.
Dolan got in front without drama by lap 66 and continued to put in fast laps, moving 11.5 seconds clear of the World Cup-winning French former goalkeeper with getting on for 90 minutes of the race remaining. Barthez’s stint wrapped with less than an hour and half of racing left, as did both Chris Hoy’s in the Algarve Pro Ligier (running 11th) and Sean Doyle’s in the Murphy Oreca (after an impressive stint for his first time at the wheel of an LMP2, consistently lapping at the leaders’ pace).
Young French racer Timothe Buret had taken over the #23 Ligier from Barthez, but now had Greaves’ third driver Kuba Giermaziak to worry about in third, lapping faster than both cars ahead of him. The SMP Racing BR01s were now running line astern in fourth and fifth in the hands of GP2 regular Stefano Coletti and 2015 Jota Sport driver Mitch Evans.
The second half of the race started with the second round of pit stops, and the #20 Duqueine Engineering Ligier being pushed back into the garage.
United Autosports’ Mark Patterson rejoined the race in the lead, the #3 not opting to change driver while the sister car saw Mike Guasch hand over Christian England, while the #9 Graff car had Paul Petit get in. The gap between the #2 and #9 in second and third was around five seconds, while down in fourth and a further 17 seconds back was the #10 Graff Ligier with John Falb driving.
When the leading United car pitted for a third time with 1hr40 to go, just fuel and tyres because Patterson as a bronze was required to drive for two hours of the race. He rejoined in sixth. United would still lead the race, with the #2 inheriting the top spot. The pair of Graff cars slotted into second and third.
The #6 360 Racing car was handed a stop-go for overtaking under double yellows with just under 90 minutes remaining, a big blow for the British team that was running sixth. After serving the penalty, the car returned to the race seventh in class with Ross Kaiser driving.
At the head of the field, a battle for the lead in LMP3 broke out between England and Petit who were running five tenths apart. With Petit slipping past England to take the lead for Graff Racing for the first time in the race. It didn’t last long, though, as England managed to retake the place a few minutes later and create a margin of over a second once again to end the hour. The top five with an hour left in the race was: 2, 9, 13, 3, 6.
GTE continued to be largely uneventful as the third hour unfolded, MacDowall and Hall circulating in formation about two seconds apart in first and second and holding a 30-second advantage on Bertolini’s JMW Ferrari. The out-of-sequence AT Racing Ferrari was fourth, with Talkanitsa senior now at the wheel.
Fourth was the first of the two Proton Porsches, the #88 in the hands of Richard Lietz, while the efforts of Aaron Scott had got the #55 Ferrari back to fifth in class after co-driver Cameron being pushed off the track twice during his stint. The JMW Ferrari had its first laps in the lead when the two Aston pitted to change drivers; Darren Turner and Roald Goethe respectively getting on board the #99 Beechdeah and #96 Rofgo cars, now split by the AT Ferrari.
Bertolini was complaining about his cars’ tyre pressures, however, so it wasn’t long before Turner had the Beechdean Aston into the lead and disappeared 12 second up the road by lap 81. Also struggling (perhaps surprisingly) was Porsche factory driver Lietz, who lost fourth in class to Talkanitsa Jr in the AT Ferrari around the same time.
A puncture for Marco Seefried after contact with the second-place LMP2 car added further misery to a day in which the #77 Proton Porsche hadn’t featured at the front. Rory Butcher, meanwhile, was back behind the wheel of the JMW Ferrari in an effort to keep it in touch with the leading Aston.