Any notion that the Toyotas are in the midst of a long cruise to the line was done away with in the 16th hour of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as the #7 Toyota TS050 Kamui Kobayashi battled door to door with the #8 with Kazuki Nakajima, the lead change coming at Mulsanne Corner.
The two swapped positions for the lead before the pitstop cycle. As it currently sits, the #8, now with Sébastien Buemi at the wheel leads the #7 of Kobayashi by 20 seconds.
The time lost was lost due to Buemi pitting first and avoiding losing time the slow zones. Kobayashi got caught in two slowzones in one sector, losing 16 seconds in those slowzones to his teammate.
The No. 7 is also losing time on raw pace, the car, at times, some six-seconds slower than the other team car per lap, though it is unclear whether the drivers are taking it easy, or if there’s a small persistent issue.
The issues for Rebellion meanwhile continued, with the #3 of Thomas Laurent had to make an unscheduled pit stop. Laurent had pitted twice within five laps but did not lose a position to the #1 Rebellion with André Lotterer
At two thirds distance, the leading Toyota has completed 25 pitstops, to the 24 for their teammate. The Rebellions have completed 27 stops each.
In LMP2, Andrea Pizzitola in the #26 G-Drive continues to lead from the #23 Panis Barthez Competition Ligier of Julian Canal and Nico Lapierre in the #36 Signatech Alpine.
At the end of the hour, Lapierre pitted the Alpine and received a nose change during the, otherwise routine pitstop.
The #47 Ceitlar Villorba Corse Dallara found the wall at Indianapolis bringing out a slowzone. Giorgio Sernagiotto was in the car and nurfed the front into the tyres. The car had to be lifted out of the gravel and crawled back to the pits with deranged bodywork. The team repaired the car and it continues in 14th place in class.
The #35 SMP Racing Dallara also was wheeled into the garage through the hour but Victor Shiatar continues, albeit in 17th in class.
The leading three cars in class have completed 24 pitstops in the first two-thirds of the race with the fourth placed #48 Idec Sport ORECA completing 27 stops.
Daylight returned sleepily to Le Mans, conditions cloudy but dry. Having run steadily and through the early hours of Sunday the GTE-Pro field still looked charged for excitement with 10 hours still to run.
With the two Porsches still circulating reliably 1-2 and taking routine stop number 16, both leader Kevin Estre and second placed Richard Lietz were pressing on in the 3:51’s to maintain a firm footing. Estre put in his fastest sector 2 time proving the ‘Pink Pig’ was still very quick indeed down the Mulsanne straight and sparing nothing.
The Fords of (#68) Hand, (#67) Kanaan and (#69) Dixon were still poised should anything impair the leading Manthey run 911 RSR’s. Split by the fifth-placed #52 AF Corse Ferrari and with the #63 Corvette holding up at the rear, this troupe of five cars was on the lead lap and going strong. The Fords appeared to be in a holding pattern and it remained to be seen whether they had an answer for the Porsche pace. Joey Hand’s #68 car in third had held a gap to the Porsches at just under 25 seconds for some time now, lapping in the 3:50’s and apparently able to soak up anything the Porsches were laying down.
It was indeed rather unusual to have reached the dawn without any major drama at the head of any of the classes and in GTE-Pro there was an air of calm anticipation – there was no way this had settled down.
To keep us on our toes though Alexander Sims was seen returning a very smokey ninth placed BMW out of the Porsche Curves, having had rear end barrier impact when losing the #82 car in the middle of the complex. Serious rear mechanical damage was clear. That incident effectively ended BMW’s chances of a big result, after the #81’s woes earlier in the race.
Mulsanne Corner saw the next incident, the #84 JMW Ferrari being rather clumsily craned out of the gravel from fourth place with Jeff Segal still aboard..! The car that had run so strongly earlier in the night now seemed out of contention.
There was a change for third place too as Giancarlo Fisichella handed the #54 Spirit of Race (AF Corse) Ferrari 488 GTE over to Franc Castellaci, resuming ahead of the #99 Proton Competition Porsche that was back in the hands of Pat Long, who had worked hard with the distinctive green Porsche overnight.
At the close of the hour Matteo Cairoli was seen in the tyre wall at the Ford Chicane, replays showing him losing the rear on entry, sending him head-first into the tyres on driver’s left.
Its wheels were still spinning as the Italian tried to get out of the gravel. The #88 Dempsey-Proton Porsche’s run for a potential podium was therefore over, after Cairoli and the team had been pushing hard in fifth, trying to make up ground.