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Le Mans: Hour 12 (2am-3am), Porsche In Tentative Command

State of flux in GTE Pro, and all to fight for in GTE Am

LMP
After the incredible events of the tenth and eleventh hours, the twelfth hour of this unpredictable race turned out to be very tame by comparison, and aside from a few position swaps due mainly to pitstops, there was precious little to report in LMP.

Half an hour into the hour, the Bratislava #47 slowed through Indianapolis, but duly recovered pace and after a pitlane visit, pressed on, running 13th in class, 14th overall, yes, only one LMP1 car was currently ahead of the P2 field.

That LMP1 leader made a routine scheduled pitstop at 2:37 am, with Tandy staying in the car for another stint. The #2 had by then recovered to 16th overall, with Earl Bamber negotiating traffic and picking up places one by one.

Anthony Davidson in the #8 Toyota had made it back onto the second timing screen, 50th overall, and was making equally steady progress with laptimes in the low 3:23s, suggested he wasn’t exactly holding back, although five seconds off ultimate pace.

As we approached the mid-point in this challenging race, six official retirements had been confirmed. The first, the ByKolles LMP1, hadn’t even completing a single lap. The #88 Porsche had fallen next, the innocent victim of a major incident in the Porsche Curves. That was followed by the #26 Oreca and then the tragically unfortunate Pierre Kaffer, tagged into a terminal spin on the Mulsanne. The final two confirmed retirements had been the two Toyotas; the #7 and then the #9. Unofficially, the #25 Oreca was also a retirement, although it wouldn’t be shown as such until the end of the hour.

We received an update from Toyota regarding the demise of the #9. Apparently, a fault had caused the car’s fuel to be automatically cut out at the end of the start straight, meaning an instant and dramatic loss of speed. Trummer in the following #25 Manor LMP2 had no time to react before he hit the Toyota hard as the two approached the Dunlop chicane. Ultimately, both cars would retire as a result.

The end of a the 12th  hour saw the upper positions in LMP1 and LMP2 stand as follows:

LMP1
1. #1 Porsche 919-Hybrid – 187  laps.
2. #2 Porsche 919-Hybrid – 168 .laps
3. #8 Toyota TS050 – 158  laps
4. #9 Toyota TS050– Retired
5. #7 Toyota TS050 – Retired

LMP2
1. #31 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca  – 161 laps
2. #38 Jackie Chan Racing
3. #13 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca
4. #35 Signatech Alpine
5. #40 Graff Racing

GTE
With matters in the prototype classes settling down, attention turned to GTE, where a proper scrap was underway in Am as Euan Hankey reeled in Marvin Dienst’s Porsche for second place, the Aston Martin getting the job done and continuing the TF Sport car’s impressive Le Mans debut. Though he had a lap’s deficit to the class-leading JMW Ferrari the race was not yet at its half way mark.

Kevin Estre’s pursuit of Alessandro Pier Guidi’s #51 AF Corse Ferrari came good as the pair slugged it out on the Mulsanne straight; the #92 Porsche getting the line and making the move stick into Mulsanne Corner. The French driver started to pull away, setting the new 911 RSR’s best first sector time on the next lap and starting to think about the ten seconds gap to Johnny Adam’s Aston Martin in third. Adam was still locked together with Richie Stanaway, who himself was well in touch with the leading Ferrari. Typically, GTE Pro was showing little sign of easing off.

Nearing half-past Estre’s Porsche had Johnny Adam’s Aston clearly within his sights, the Porsche’s headlights illuminating the Vantage’s unmissable rear diffuser. Both cars gained an advantage though exiting a slow zone, at which they’d caught up with Richie Stanaway whose getaway was somewhat delayed whence the slow zone terminated. This allowed both Adam and Estre through, though the #92 Porsche was due at its pit.

By quarter-to three the GTE Am situation had reset itself after pit stops. Vanthoor still led Cioci’s #55 Spirit Of Race Ferrari by a lap, Dienst’s Dempsey-Proton Porsche and Euan Hankey’s TF Sport Aston Martin close behind, ten seconds covering second to fourth. Cooper MacNeil was half a lap back, but the 2016 class-winning Scuderia Corsa Ferrari was in a similar position this time last year and there was still more than half the race to run.