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Toyota Still In Front At Half-Distance

Alpine still in control of LMP2, Ford Leads GTE

LMP1: Trouble for #7 Toyota
The Toyotas swapped places once again early in the second hour, Conway moving ahead of Buemi. Over team radio, the latter driver disputed the team’s asserion that he was slower than Conway, blaming traffic for the difference in their pace. A clearly riled-up Buemi passed for the lead once again through Stowe, just before diving into the pits and almost missing the line for the pit limit, requiring a heavy brake lock-up to get the TS050 slowed down.

There were hints of a problem however, with Alex Wurz telling the media of a software glitch for the #7 Toyota costing it 15 seconds on its out lap, resulting in Kobayashi emerging third behind the #2 Porsche, now in the hands of Timo Bernhard. There was also a handling issue for the #7 “which the driver could feel”. Davidson took over the #8 from Buemi and retained the lead, while the #7 continued to struggle for pace, eventually dropping to fourth behind Tandy in the #1 Porsche.

At the next stops, the #7 had its rear bodywork changed, and shortly after it rejoined, it began raining heavier than before, as Tandy attempted a robust move for the lead on Davidson. Kobayashi then went straight on at Vale as the rain continued to fall, ending up beached in the gravel. Tandy took the opportunity to pit for ‘slicktermediates’ on the #1 Porsche, but the rain almost as quickly began to ease off.

Just after the half-way mark, Davidson held a 40-second lead on Bamber, who’d taken over the #2 Porsche from Bernhard. Lotterer was third in the #1 919 ahead of fourth-place Kobayashi. The ByKolles was running 13th overall, behind all but one of the LMP2s.

LMP2: Alpine continues to lead
The second round of LMP2 pitstops took in driver changes, with Menezes getting aboard the leading Alpine, Tung taking over the #38 DC Racing entry, Perrodo taking the wheel from Vaxiviere in the TDS car and Nico Prost relieving Bruno Senna in the #31 Rebellion. Jonathan Hirschi also got aboard the fifth-place Manor car after an opening stint from Jean-Eric Vergne. Thiriet had been running sixth in class, but the G-Drive car’s door once again worked itself loose during his stint.

After several laps, Prost had caught and passed Perrodo, moving the #31 Rebellion to third in class, but the team’s other entry was in the wars, Heinemeier Hanson coming together with Hirschi in the #24 Manor and having to make an unscheduled stop to attend to the resulting damage.

Prost’s progress continued as he caught up to Ho-Pin Tung’s DC Racing car approaching the two-hour mark, while the #13 car was later awarded a penalty for the Hirschi incident, 15 seconds being added to its subsequent pit stop.

Past half-distance, Menezes was at the wheel of the Alpine and looking comfortable with near-minute’s lead over Thomas Laurent in the #38 DC Racing car. Vaxiviere was back aboard the TDS in third, ahead of Julien Canal in the #31 Rebellion.

“We had a problem with the front left tyre losing pressure, which was costing us grip in the early stages,” explained Andy Priaulx, “We did pop the door latch as we slammed the driver’s door shut on the grid, but although that was annoying it wasn’t what actually cost us the time. The car’s really good, but we’re out of sequence now and could do with some rain or a Safety Car to make a difference.”

This left the #66 Ford GT to lead ahead of the two AF Corse Ferraris, Sam Bird staying aboard the #71 car having kept its rubber trying to save lost time, Alessandro Pier Guidi now at the helm of their #51 entry which had changed tyres and fully serviced. The two team mates duked it out as Pier Guidi made the best of his situation to take the third position. The Porsches were behind in 4th and 5th, circulating together, before better pitwork elevated the pair, having passed Davide Rigone as the #71 car made its driver change.

Past the two hour mark James Calado had to defend hard in third against Kevin Estre’s #92 Porsche, additional pressure building behind this pair from Richard Lietz in the closing #91 911 RSR. Estre got through into Brooklands, the #51 car’s fourth place immediately under pressure too, Lietz making short work of the Ferrari which appeared to be struggling for grip. This left each marque circulating rather neatly in pairs: Ford, Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin.

As the circuit caught its first rain shower the GTE field dropped its pace and held on. But this enabled Billy Johnson to close on Derani’s lead, the #67 car’s out-of- sequence pit call soon taken, the team again replacing just the front left rubber.

The conditions allowed Davide Rigon’s #71 Ferrari to catch the #92 Porsche, eventually lining up a move under braking into Vale, Lietz fighting the place back out of Club corner though, Kevin Estre saw an advantage among the compression and demoted the Ferrari to fifth. Rigon’s challenge was fierce though as the field headed towards the pits for the third time, however the Porsches lost position as the field rejoined.

The running order after the stops at the mid-point of the race was: #66 Ford / #51 Ferrari / #67 Ford / #71 Ferrari / #97 Aston Martin / #91 Porsche / #92 Porsche / #95 Aston Martin

The #98 Aston Martin pressed on in its lead, Dalla Lana setting 2:02’s, a couple of seconds better than the rest of the drivers at this stage to build a strong foundation ahead of Marvin Dienst in the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche and Thomas Flohr’s #54 Spirit Of Race Ferrari 488 GTE.

Mok Weng’s pace wasn’t quite enough to retain the Clearwater Racing Ferrari’s earlier position, dropping back to within four seconds of Michael Wainright’s Gulf Porsche, and though Matt Griffin’s inheritance of the Clearwater car promised improvements at the second round of stops no major improvement was achieved.

Though Miguel Molina’s pace aboard the second placed Spirit of race Ferrari reduced the gap to 18 seconds, the #98 Aston Martin still held the front approaching the three-hour mark, Mathias Lauda aboard.