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Le Mans: Hour 10 (12am-1am), Extraordinary Scenes as Toyota Flounders

Rebellion pulling clear in LMP2, Aston still heading GTE Pro, but all to play for in GTE Am

LMP
Early into the new hour and the race entered its first period behind a full-course Safety Car, apparently so that sections of the circuit, focused on Indianapolis and Arnage, could be ‘cleaned’.

Several cars chose this as an opportunity to make unscheduled pitstops, including several front-runners in the LMP2 field. The the #31 Rebellion took longer to rejoin and consequently fell back to third. On the whole, however, most pressed on into what became a somewhat pedestrian period, although half an hour in there was the unexpected sight of the #1 Porsche spinning at the entrance to the pitlane. Tandy managed to recover fairly swiftly, and continued in for fuel and tyres.

Three minutes later and the leading Toyota, the #7, pitted under the safety car. It all appeared to go smoothly, although Kobayashi seemed to be held for an inordinately long time at the pitlane exit. He was eventually given the thumbs up, and rejoined the race. Unbeknown to us at the time, what we had witnessed was a thumbs up of encouragement from Algarve Pro Racing driver Vincent Capillaire, and not an official instruction from a similarly orange-dressed marshal for Kobayashi to rejoin the race. Like Kobayashi, we misinterpreted the scene. Kobayashi headed off, only to be called back by the team because the exit lights were still red. When the lights did go green, Kobayashi faced a dilemma – the on-board battery system had been stretched to its limits by the start-stop-start procedure in the pitlane, and he now needed to make a conventional re-start using the car’s engine, from a standstill, on a hill. We were to learn later that the car’s clutch was to suffer as a consequence.

Despite the extended period  under safety car conditions, no cars in P2 pitted … until racing resumed at 00:43, at which point two middle-order P2 cars headed for fuel.

The next we saw of the #7 Toyota was Kobayashi slowed to a crawl. From race leader, Kobayashi was suddenly in survival mode. In qualifying the Japanese had set the fastest lap ever recorded for the La Sarthe circuit, in the current configuration, and now there appeared to be every possibility that he was about to embark on what might have become one of the slowest.

The car began by moving slowly up the hill towards the Dunlop chicane, just as notice was given of the car being under investigation for some form of pitlane exit infringement. Flashes from the exhausts suggested the engine was not firing up, and it was assumed that the car was travelling on electric power only.

At such a slow pace, it was only a matter of time … a very short time … before Tandy powered through in the #1 Porsche to take the outright lead.

Meanwhile, Matthias Beche was pitting the #13 Rebellion from from 3rd in LMP2 for what we calculate to be a modestly overdue stop. By our calculations, under normal race conditions, he’d probably have pitted when the safety car was circulating.

The #7, meanwhile, was still moving, but at less than 60 kph. At ten to one Tandy swept by to put a first lap on Kobayashi, just as the #2 Porsche was awarded a drive-through for the releasing the safety harness before the car had fully stopped.

Eight minutes before the hour, and Lapierre moved through into second, as the #7 arrived at Mulsanne Corner. Kobayashi was driving along the margins of the track, outside the rumble strips through corners, and on the hard shoulder of the public road sections. It must have seemed painfully, frustratingly. Impossibly slow for the pole-setter – but it was about to get even worse.

Four minutes short of the hour and the #7 stopped on the side of the track in the mid-section of Indianapolis, and there the Japanese driver saw out the end of Hour 10. Even more drama was just around the corner.

In LMP2, the pit cycles had churned the order once again, but the net position was that the two Rebellions were still in front, #31 leading #13. Thomas Laurent held third now for the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca, 40 seconds behind Beche.

The conclusion of Hour 10 saw the leading five in each class as follows:

LMP1
1. #1 Porsche 919-Hybrid – 158 laps
2. #9 Toyota TS050 – 156 laps
3. #7 Toyota TS050 – 154 laps
4. #2 Porsche 919-Hybrid – 139 laps
5. #8 Toyota TS050 – 128 laps

LMP2
1. #31 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca – 150 laps
2. #13 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca
3. #38 Jackie Chan Racing
4. #25 CEFC Manor TRS Racing
5. #35 Signatech Alpine
6. #40 Graff Racing

GTE
GTE Pro continues to be a lottery, with the top seven within a minute of each other, the lead changing constantly as the pit cycles develop. The true leaders appear to be the pair of Aston Martin Racing Vantages, with the #97 leading the #95. However, at the end of the hour, the #51 AF Corse Ferrari leads the class over the #92 Porsche.

In GTE Am, it is a stalemate, with JMW Motorsport continuing to lead, by a healthy margin over the TF Sport Aston and #77 Proton Porsche. Outside the top three, the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari is fourth, despite a small spin at the Ford Chicanes from Duncan Cameron, ahead of the #62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari of Townsend Bell.