During the hour, the only notable change in the LMP1 class, was the lead, the two Toyotas swapping again.
Both TS050 HYBRIDS made their 10th stops during the hour, and when both had been in, the order had changed, the #7 of Kamui Kobayashi leading the # 8 of Kazuki Nakajima by less than a second.
The two Toyotas, running in formation, aside from two punctures (detected early by the team) have had a faultless run, and are now two laps ahead of the best of the privateers: the #17 SMP Racing BR1, which is running just 18 seconds ahead of the #3 rebellion Racing R-13 which sits fourth.
Elsewhere, further down the order, the two TRSM Ginettas are now both ahead of the DragonSpeed BR1 in the standings running a very respectable sixth and seventh.
The BR1 is now back out on track after 48 minutes of repair work following Renger van der Zande’s off in the previous hour.
The story here was much the same, with very little to report during the hour.
At the head of the field, the #26 G-Drive Racing ORECA, now being driven for a second time today by Jean-Eric Vergne, is just a minute ahead, the car losing almost 30 seconds during the previous 60 minutes over Paul Loup Chatin’s IDEC Sport ORECA, which is now back up to second.
The #36 Signatech Alpine is third, ahead of the Panis Barthez Ligier, which is still enjoying a remarkably clean and quick run through the first half of the race, the car now fourth, Will Stevens back behind the wheel, still on the lead lap.
As predicted, it took a few laps for the true order to become clear once again, after a flurry of GTE activity in the pitlane.
Battle was re-joined between Ford and Corvette in GTE-Pro as Ryan Briscoe nearly lost the #69 car under braking for the second chicane, collecting the oversteer just in time to avoid contact. Antonio Garcia, hoping to make his move for seventh place in the #63 Corvette, was pushed onto the loose stuff on the outside of the chicane, both cars just hanging on. Garcia got the drag on the Ford though as the pair powered down towards Mulsanne Corner, and the positions were swapped.
Garcia was then able to target da Costa’s BMW, just four seconds further down the road in fifth.
Patrick Pilet in the Porsche #93, and running second had Martin Tomczyk in his mirrors, the BMW’s pace the true surprise of the class so far. Pilet had the situation under control, however, and the pair were circulating about a second apart.
Vilander (#52 Ferrari) and Priaulx (Ford #67) were also at it hammer and tongs, the latest in a constant reel of battles in this class, which has been fulfilling all expectations and more. Avoiding incoming quicker prototypes, the #52 Ferrari held the Ford at bay for several laps, until Priaulx got the better of the AF Corse car to take eighth.
Romain Dumas had been running a steady tenth in class, but coming out of the Porsche Curves with about twenty minutes remaining of the hour, the #94 Porsche was seen to be slowing. The first Porsche to show any kind of mechanical issue, the erratic movement from the rear of the 911 RSR suggested more than just a tyre issue, perhaps a suspension problem. Displaying clear signs of finding the car a handful to control, he brought the car back to the pitlane, where it was hauled promptly backwards into the garage. It was the end of lap 93.
Coming up towards the close of the seventh hour, Christensen’s lead in the #92 was solidly planted at two-and-a-half minutes, but team-mates Pilet and Bruni behind were just a second apart in the Porsche 1-2-3, with the first of the BMWs fourth
The Team Project 1 Porsche had made great progress in the hands of Jörg Bergmeister but with Egidio Perfetti now aboard the #56 was falling back into the clutches of Paul Dalla Lana, the GTE-Am veteran taking advantage of the #98 Aston Martin’s improving form. The Vantage had been steadily drawing up through the order. The Canadian had his own problems though, with Jeff Segal on a charge in the #84 JMW Ferrari that had lost several places over previous driver stints, and had ground to make up. Segal passed Dalla Lana on the Mulsanne and was away, soon passing Perfetti for second place.
Paul Dalla Lana’s progress, however, was abruptly halted at the entrance to the Porsche Curves. The Aston Martin was on an in-lap, probably low on fuel, lighter in weight and probably encouraging the Canadian to push for one last lap before the end of his stint. Somehow, he lost control going through the very quick right-hander, and the car speared wide, across the gravel, and made heavy contact with the tyre wall, having gone in sideways and bounced back with some force. The damage was significant, and there looked to be little chance for the car to moving again under its own power. No news on Dalla Lana as we end the hour.
Coming up to ten o’clock and the leading #77 Porsche was the first of the Am field to make its routine pitstop.
Martin Little & Marcus Potts