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Le Mans: Hour 20 (10am-11am), Porsche #2 Closes On Podium

Other classes hold steady with four hours

LMP
Quarter past ten and some tidy on-board footage showed Earl Bamber bringing the #2 Porsche 919 into the pitlane to hand over to Brendon Hartley. It seems hard to credit that just five years ago this fresh-faced, tousle haired Kiwi was making his sportscar debut with Murphy Prototypes.

Two appearances here at Le Mans with the Irish squad (2012 and 2013) were enough to bring his talent to the attention of the major manufacturers, and in 2014 he made the move to Porsche, partnering Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard for three seasons and securing 15 podiums in the WEC and a second in the 24 Hours of 2015. From young pretender he’s risen to become a kingpin in Porsche’s line-up, and a delightful bloke to boot.

Musings aside, the race goes on regardless. Those who slept through the night will have had to come to terms with the unexpected news of Toyota’s misfortunes, but with four hours yet to go, there’s still much more that can happen.

Nearing half-past the #1 Porsche continued to lead by 13 laps from Oliver Jarvis, who looked to be in a strong position at the front of LMP2. His lead over the #13 Rebellion stood at over 2 minutes.

David Heinemeier Hansson was back aboard the Vaillante Rebellion, and he’d been turning solid laps to keep the gap restrained if not reduced. The leader’s advantage was compounded however as Heinemeier Hansson appeared at his pit for attention, the car’s rear bodywork coming off as mechanics did what they could without committing the car into the garage. A new right-rear brake duct was fitted as quickly as spanners would allow; the stop extended as the rear bodywork proved awkward to refit. The car rejoined having lost a lap to the leader, but still holding second in class, third overall.

The sister car, the #31, returned to the fray with the gearbox re-fettled. Evidently something wasn’t quite perfect, as Nico Prost brought the car back in again for some further attention before settling into race mode once more. The stoppage had cost the Rebellion dearly, and from podium contender, the car was back to 26th overall, a distant 16th in LMP2. That’s one deficit that can’t be made up from this late stage in the race.

The two P1 cars working to recover after respective problems stood a better chance. By quarter-to the #2 Porsche had claimed 6th overall, while the #8 Toyota was circulating in 13th. Moments later the anticipated notification appeared on screen that the recent pitstop by the #13 Rebellion was ‘under investigation’. Clearly carrying unintended passengers is indeed frowned upon by the stewards.

Notwithstanding any potential penalty, the recovery of the #13 Vaillante Rebellion to its formerly competitive position now lay in the hands of Matthias Beche. The Swiss Platinum driver’s distant second place now required rearguard action as Nelson Panciatici’s Alpine had gained ground while the #13 car received attention. Beche didn’t mess about, immediately into the 3:33’s, at least a match for the leader’s pace, drawing away from Panciatici as quickly as traffic would allow.

As we closed on the end of the hour Beche’s gap to Panciatici, second to third, was roughly 90 seconds, with the Frenchman forced to stop for fuel seven minutes short of the hour, but restored by a routine stop for Jarvis: fuel only and staying aboard for a triple stint.

Hartley was visibly charging in the #2 Porsche, lapping 3:20’s in clear air. Careful not to apply too much pressure, a Porsche 1-2 in LMP1 was now starting to look possible. If things could be managed well, the cars could achieve that as an overall finish too.

Hour 20 ticked to an end with the top 15 positions:

LMP1
1. #1 Porsche 919-Hybrid, LMP1 – 315  laps.
2. #38 Jackie Chan Racing  – 300 laps
3. #13 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca
4. #35 Signatech Alpine
5. #2 Porsche 919-Hybrid LM P1
6. #37 Jackie Chan Racing
7. #32 United Autosports Ligier
8. #24 CEFC Manor TDS Racing Oreca
9. #2 Porsche 919-Hybrid LM P1
10. #40 Graff Oreca 07 Gibson
11. #23 Panis Barthez Ligier
12. #47 Cetilar Villorba Corse Dallara
13. #8 Toyota TS050 LMP1
14. #34 Tockwith Motorsports Ligier
15. #36 Signatech Alpine Gibson
16. #17 IDEC Sport Racing Ligier

GTE
GTE Pro continued its established pattern in the 20th hour of the 2017 Le Mans 24 Hours, although this time it was the #63 Corvette that was leading at the end of the hour, 15 seconds up on the #97 Aston, which was itself only about eight seconds ahead of the #91 Porsche, currently with Patrick Pilet at the wheel.

As it has been doing for much of the race, the #67 GT was carrying Ford’s podium hopes, while the #71 Ferrari was the sole AF Corse works car in genuine contention, with the #51 having tumbled well down the order behind most of the GTE Am cars due to its earlier front-end repairs. Fords #68 and #69 completed the top seven, now with Tony Kanaan (driving his final planned stint of the race) and Richard Westbrook aboard respectively.

There were no major changes to the GTE Am order either, and still only the one retirement (the #88 Proton Porsche) in a class that traditionally throws up more. Entries like the #93 Proton Porsche (sixth), #65 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari (10th), #86 Gulf Racing Porsche (11th) and #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari (12th) have circulated without major incident for hour after hour, not putting a foot wrong but lacking the outright pace to challenge for a class podium position.