Rain clouds looked threatening over the hills and the wind was rising as the race entered its final third. The #8 Bentley lapped consistently quickly through the night and looked like it might have the pace to catch the #90 Mercedes before the end of the race.
At 08:44am, after more than two hours’ green racing, the #63 Lamborghini, which had looked so strong in the early stages of the race, had an off deep into the barrier on the left at Fagnes (T12). Christian Engelhart had been at the wheel and later reported that brake failure had led to the car understeering off at the right-hander.
Rene Rast had been standing by anyway, ready to get into the #1 Audi, but Raffaele Marciello, who had only been in the #90 a little over an hour previously, relieved Michael Meadows after a single stint. As the green flag waved, the two cars were nose-to-tail heading up the Kemmel straight.
Rast made a move up the inside at Les Combes, but the door was closed by Marciello; they made contact and both spun. Rast was quicker to recover, while Marciello dropped to fifth. The stewards investigated and a drive-through penalty was handed out to Rast.
That dropped the #1 WRT Audi to fourth and the lead (changing for the 38th time) went to the #98 ROWE Racing BMW, with Tom Blomqvist driving. The BMW became the 13th different leader of the race and the eighth different car brand to lead.
Markus Winkelhock in the #25 Sainteloc Audi suddenly put in the fastest lap of the race shortly after the green signal was given – a 2m 19.756s. Blomqvist only had four laps in the lead before the BMW was heading for the pits, to be handed over to Nicky Catsburg and dropping to sixth place in the process.
The #90 Mercedes was now in the back in the lead after its grassy moment at Les Combes, Marciello doing everything short of driving single-handedly to give the car the best possible chance of a podium. With 17 hours of the race gone, the Italian had driven more than half of the race, having squeezed in a three-hour break while Mortara and Meadows drove between 1am and 4am. Given that this is Marciello’s first 24-hour race, it seemed clear he was aiming for the ‘Ironman’ award.
These various issues led to nine cars getting back onto the lead lap, with seven hours of the race remaining, with less than a minute separating the first four: Mercedes #90 (Marciello), Audi #1 (Rast), Audi #25 (Winkelhock) and Bentley #8 (Abril).
There was a problem for the yellow #9 Abt Bentley, off the circuit at La Source with steam rising from the engine bay. Nico Verdonck managed to get the car back to the pit entrance, where it stopped just short of the line, allowing mechanics to push. A seemingly terminal problem for a car which had been running inside the top 10.
In Pro-Am, the #16 Black Falcon Mercedes of Morley, Toril, Kirchhofer and Goetz had been leading since half-distance. Miguel Toril professing himself “very happy” with the way that everything was going.
At the end of the 18th hour, the top four were still separated by less than a minute, with the #8 Bentley still the quickest car out there, despite having very little (if any) of its front grille left. Once again, a fine battle broke out on track; this time for third place, as Andy Soucek looked for a way past Christopher Haase in the Sainteloc Audi. The ROWE BMW #98 was tending to spend slightly longer on it pit stops than it needed to and lost 25 seconds over the span of three hours.