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LM 24 Hour 19: Safety Car Adds Spice

The deployment of the safety car bunched up all the classes, creating racing opportunities

LMP1

The safety car made its third appearance in order to give the track workers an opportunity to repair a drain cover at Tertre Rouge.

Initially, the two Toyotas were behind different safety cars, which gave the #8 a chance to take a pitstop – where Sébastien Buemi gave over to Fernando Alonso. This put Alonso behind the sister car in the other safety car queue.

Mike Conway was in the #7 and when the race went green again, Alonso almost immediately reeled in Conway and passed him in the traffic on the Mulsanne straight. Conway soon pitted to hand over to Jose Maria Lopez and the lead has extended to 1:16.

The #3 Rebellion is in third place with Mathias Beche – 11 laps down on the lead Toyota.

Fourth continues to be held by Bruno Senna in the #1 Rebellion R13. Senna made two pitstops in quick succession but it appeared to be tactical with fuel being taken on board just eight laps – mostly under safety car – after the previous pitstop.

Mikhail Aleshin in the #11 SMP BR1 and Michael Simpson in the #5 Ginetta continue to lap the circuit.

LMP2

The #26 G-Drive Racing ORECA with Jean-Éric Vergne continues to hold a healthy lead over Will Stevens in the #23 Panis Barthez Ligier and the #36 Signatech Alpine of Pierre Thiriet.

Vergne holds a two lap lead with Stevens almost a lap ahead of Thiriet who in turn is a lap ahead of the Idec Sport car of Paul-Loup Chatin.

There were two cars to have incidents at the Porsche Curves. First off was the #50 Larbre Competition Ligier with Romano Ricci. He spun the car to the outside of the Curves, causing damage to the rear of the car, including a puncture. After being lifted out of the gravel, Ricci crawled back to the pits. The car was in the garage at the end of the hour.

But at near the same point of the track was a heavy crash for the #22 United Autosports Ligier of Paul di Resta. The car had spun and hit the nose of the car on an unprotected part of the wall of the Porsche Curves, causing significant damage to the car.

The car then proceeded across the track, with di Resta regaining some control to get the car to a safer location. Even though, the safety car was called. Due to the significant impact with the wall, di Resta was called to the medical centre for checks.

The United Autosports entry was in fifth place in class and with the retirement of the car, the #39 Graff SO-24 car of Tristan Gommendy is promoted to fifth.

Sam Tickell

GTE-Pro

The nineteenth hour kicked off with a pitstop for the Pro leader, Michael Christensen, who resumed the lead for Porsche after the pink #92 car had benefited from a rear brake-pad change.

His team-mate, Gianmaria Bruni, had been into the pits a little earlier for a front brake service that had proven a little troublesome, with time lost to Harry Tincknell in the third-placed Ford GT.

Aston Martin News: the #97 car was seen moving slowly down the left-hand margin of the Mulsanne straight; last year’s winners back on the learning curve with the new car.

This coincided with a Safety Car period – thankfully a rare occurrence in this year’s 24 Hours – while track repairs were effected at Tertre Rouge. What appeared to be a heavyweight grill covering a drainage culvert, built into the kerbing on the outside edge of the high-speed curve, had been prised loose by traffic. The metal casting had been thrown several metres onto the verge, leaving a gaping hole. The maintenance crew came out with welding gear to refit the grill and make the kerbing safe once more.

Under the safety car the leaders in GTE Pro had been bunched up tightly, but as soon as racing resumed, the action hotted-up. It created a bumper to bumper battle for second in the class between the #92 Porsche of Gianmaria Bruni and the #68 Chip Ganassi Ford Team USA GT of Dirk Müller. Harry Tincknell’s fourth-placed #67 Ganassi UK GT stood fourth, close behind.

Tincknell then dived in for the car’s 21st stop of the race just after race went green again. Bruni and Müller, however, continued running in tandem, the Ford unable to get through, but nevertheless creating an entertaining sequence.

Up ahead, the Safety Car period didn’t made much difference to the leading margin in the class, the #92 still over three minutes up the road with Michael Christensen behind the wheel.

GTE-Am

In the GTE Am class, the safety car didn’t create any close battles, unfortunately, none of the big gaps getting closed up by the three Porsche safety cars on track.

Indeed, the Safety Car helped to consolidate the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche’s lead, extending this to almost four minutes. However, the second-place challenge had been closed up, Keating Motorsport’s Ferrari now 3 seconds ahead of the Spirit of Race Ferrari.

We had a succession of driver changes involving the front-runners in GTE Am.

Christian Reid, installed in the lead #77 Porsche, had Ben Keating double-stinting in his eponymously titled Ferrari to get it a full lap clear of the third-placed Spirit of Race F488 GTE, Thomas Flohr was on board the #54, but was soon caught and passed by Jeroen Bleekemolen, who proceeded to add five seconds to Keating Motorsport’s second place advantage.

The Dempsey Proton Porsche #88 that had figured so prominently earlier in the race, and taken pole position in GTE-Am was posted as an official retirement.

Martin Little & Marcus Potts