Summary: Up front Kazuki Nakajima in the leading #5 Toyota was maintaining a 30 second gap to the chasing #2 Porsche.
LMP1: Toyota leads as the frace nears its final hour
The 22nd hour started with the #6 Toyota being pushed into the garage for bodywork repairs following Kobayashi’s off at Karting.
Up front Davidson still retained the lead of the race, 56 seconds ahead of Neel Jani who like Marc Lieb before him, couldn’t match his pace. It was just a quick trip however, as in the end there appeared to be no significant damage to the car.
Jani meanwhile, continued to try everything to catch the leading Toyota. But he couldn’t string enough fast laps together. The #2 Porsche was quick, but Davidson could match every time the Porsche stalwart posted to maintain his 55 second lead.
Even after taking tyres on the 26th stop, the #5 Toyota till held a 30 second lead with just over an hour of the race remaining. Nakajima was aboard for his final stint, and was matched against Jani who was struggling to keep his times consistent.
With the final hour approaching, the gap was still 30 seconds between the leaders. Nakajima was keeping his cool out front. Will Toyota finish the job?
LMP2: Status quo
Alpine looked good up front. The G-Drive Oreca got past to get onto the lead lap during the penultimate hour, but Romain Rusinov was far enough behind to ensure that it wasn’t an issue for the French factory team.
Third was still the #37 SMP Racing BR01, which was also comfortable, a lap ahead of the Strakka Racing Gibson which had seen Nick Leventis finish his final triple stint before handing over Danny Watts.
There were dramas in the class, with Ines Tattinger in the Pegasus Morgan going off once again at Mulsanne Corner, before stopping out on driver’s right with the right-rear tyre on fire, an on-the-spot retirement. Ben Keating also had an off at the Dunlop Bridge, but rejoined; a tough outing for Murphy Prototypes.
GTE: Ford poised for its big win
Consistency being the foundation of Le Mans the #98 GTE Am Aston Martin had pulled up again on driver’s left on the run up to the Dunlop Curves. This time it was Mattias Lauda’s turn to experience a problem with the car, which had persevered after numerous issues. The car had not been quite right since Dalla Lana’s off on Saturday evening. Stuck in sixth gear, the car was moved behind the concrete wall into retirement.
Slow zones in operation once more (these proving on many occasions to be a much better solution here than waved yellows and/or safety cars), the #60 had limped back to the pits with a front right damper failure, the car running sixth in Am and had enough time in hand to resume without losing a place. However, Christina Nielsen’s pit stop was under investigation a couple of laps later.
With just under two hours to run there was still enough time for Vilander’s Risi Ferrari to catch and pass Joey Hand’s leading Ford GT. Thirty-nine seconds separated the pair, which was nothing potentially, should circumstances intervene. But Vilander was unable to eat into the #68 car’s advantage, Hand responding to hold the gap every time the flying Finn decided to push. The Ferrari was also having to contend with mounting pressure from the #69 Ford behind as Ryan Briscoe started to ratchet the pressure to reduce his gap to the Risi car to nineteen seconds.
As if that wasn’t enough Olivier Pla was closing in too. His fourth place stabilised by the #97 Aston Martin’s puncture, the third Ford GT was some way back but potentially posed a Ford 1-2-3 should the Risi Ferrari have a problem.
Townsend Bell continued the pressure at the head of the Am field, aware that an advantage of one lap wasn’t a reason to ease off with Patrick Long aboard the car chasing him. His routine stop handed the drive to Jeff Segal.
Further along the pit-lane the dark green #55 Ferrari 458 seemed to be in trouble, Matt Griffin sat aboard the AF Corse car as the crew investigated brake and exhaust problems (this a recurrence of their earlier issue).
The #60 Formula Racing Ferrari received a drive-through penalty for refuelling with the engine running.
Towards the end of the session Emmanuel Collard drove the #83 AF Corse car hard to reduce the gap to the second placed Am Porsche to under twenty seconds.