Truth in 24 states categorically that “it always rains at Le Mans”. Not this year … well, it now seems highly unlikely, anyway! It is indeed many years since there was a race as dry and as mercilessly hot as this one has been. Even through the night the track temperatures remained in the teens, and with the sun rising high in the sky, it looks as if we’re in for another scorcher.
The conditions will be sure to test the remaining cars and drivers, but for the time being they press on in relentless determination, few signs of stress, and little to break the cycle. Pitstops come and go, but the overall order, certainly within the prototype classes, appears largely set.
To throw small spanners in the works, the stewards dish out a few penalties. Car #24 Manor Oreca was awarded a 5 second on-track penalty for accelerating before the end of a safety zone, while the #29 Racing Team Nederland Dallara had a 10 second penalty for breach of article 10.8.2.1. This relates to the period of refuelling a car, with the driver still in the cockpit, but exactly which element the Dutch team breached isn’t explained.
Regular pitstops saw Laurent take over the #38 Jackie Chan Racing Oreca, and Nick Tandy begin another stint in the #1 Porsche. David Heinemeier Hansson was back in the #13 Rebellion, third overall, and André Negrão started another stint in the #35 Signatech Alpine.
So, the close of Hour 18 saw the top 15 positions in the prototype classes as:
1. #1 Porsche 919-Hybrid, LMP1 – 282 laps
2. #38 Jackie Chan Racing – 269 laps
3. #13 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca
4. #31 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca
5. #35 Signatech Alpine
6. #37 Jackie Chan Racing
7. #32 United Autosports Ligier
8. #24 CEFC Manor TDS Racing Oreca
9. #40 Graff Oreca 07 Gibson
10. #2 Porsche 919-Hybrid LM P1
11. #23 Panis Barthez Ligier
12. #47 Cetilar Villorba Corse Dallara
13. #34 Tockwith Motorsports Ligier
14. #36 Signatech Alpine Gibson
15. #8 Toyota TS050 LMP1
About 25 minutes into Hour 18, the complexion of GTE Pro changed dramatically when Richie Stanaway, on his out lap in the class-leading #95 Aston ran out wide at Mulsanne and crunched the front left-hand corner of the car into the tyre barrier. He was able to recover to the pits at almost full race speed, and once there the AMR mechanics descended on the car to effect repairs.
That meant Jordan Taylor in the #63 Corvette – which had been on the back foot for most of the race after its early puncture – now led the class from Makowiecki in the #91 Porsche by about 10 seconds, with Harry Tincknell looming in third in the #67 Ford. Pitstops saw Makowiecki inherit the lead and Tincknell move to second, with Taylor re-emerging in third, where he had to fend off an attack from Jonny Adam in the #97 Aston.
The #95 Aston was then slow on track having come out following the repairs to Stanaway’s damage. Behind Miguel Molina in the #71 Ferrari meanwhile, Fords #67, #68 and #69 were running fifth, sixth and seventh in the class as the hour drew to a close.
Adam got ahead of Taylor to move into what became the temporary class lead when Makowiecki pitted the Porsche, a short while before another hour ticked over as the clock passed 9am – six hours, or one whole WEC race length, to go.
1 #97 Aston
2 #63 Corvette
3 #91 Porsche
4 #67 Ford
5 #71 Ferrari
6 #68 Ford
1 #84 JMW Ferrari
2 #55 SoR Ferrari
3 #62 WeatherTech Ferrari
4 #99 Beechdean Aston
5 #61 Clearwater Ferrari
6 #77 Proton Porsche