The odd sight of seeing both Toyotas serving a one minute penalty for speeding under a slow zone was the talking point at the front of the LMP1 field during the 17th hour of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Both cars were called for speeding under the same slow zone with Sébastien Buemi and Mike Conway serving the penalties. Given both received the same penalties and both served them at the same time, the race didn’t change. Buemi in the #8 Toyota TS050 leads Conway in the #7 by 46 seconds.
After starting to turn some slower laps at the end of the last hour, the #7 continued to lose time on their teammate over the 17th hour.
In third and fourth remain Thomas Laurent and André Lotterer in the #3 and #1 Rebellions respectively.
It could be the end of the line for the #10 DragonSpeed BR1 with Ben Hanley spinning into the wall at the Porsche Curves. The car suffered significant damage to the rear and the barrier suffered damage, resulting in a long slow zone.
While Hanley was able bring the crabbing car back to the pits, the car remains there to see if it can be repaired.
For the #5 Ginetta, the car is still suffering development issues, this time a problem in the bellhousing. The team are committed to getting the car to the end of the race.
The racing at the front of the LMP2 field remained stable with the G-Drive #26 now with Romain Rusinov, leading the class. Timothé Buret in the #23 Panis Barthez Ligier sits in a comfortable second place while Nicolas Lapierre is in third in the #36 SIgnatech Alpine.
Rusinov holds a two lap lead while there is more than a minute between second and third.
There was a battle for ninth and tenth in class with the remaining #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing of Nabil Jeffri passing the #29 Racing Team Nederland Dallara on track.
However there was an issue for the #28 TDS Racing ORECA with François Perrodo behind the wheel. He spun and got beached at the Ford Chicane. The car was able to continue, now with Loïc Duval at the wheel.
It’s almost as if this race had been set on pause during the hours of darkness. Then, with the rising of the sun and the return to the track of bleary-eyed spectators, someone pressed the play button. At least, for the benefit of those who did take time out to sleep, there’s not a lot to catch up on, but having something to report does seem like a change of pace.
The first news to break early in the hour was confirmation that the #82 BMW was an official retirement. Race Control has been bewilderingly slow to publish retirements, but four cars (out of the nine believed to have succumbed to mechanical failure) have now been greyed out on the timings screens. The #82 joined the official casualty list alongside the #94 Porsche, the #34 Jackie Chan Racing LMP2 Ligier and the #40 G-Drive Oreca. Others known to have retired, but still listed, include the #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche, the #98 Aston Martin (long since abandoned), the #17 SMP BR1-AER, and the #6 CEFC Ginetta.
Almost simultaneously, the BMW’s sister car came under the attention of the stewards. A lap off the GTE-Pro lead, and being driven by Nicky Catsburg, a pit lane infringement was suspected for the #81 car.
The leading #92 Porsche pitted for a routine brake change shortly into the hour, and the next round of stops cycled through.
Further back on the leading GTE-Pro lap play resumed as the #63 Corvette of Mike Rockenfeller closed right up to Scott Dixon’s #69 Ford GT. Dixon held station through the Porsche Curves but the pair exited the Ford Chicane with their order reversed, the Corvette now fifth and less than a minute adrift of the #67 Ford of Tony Kanaan.
Dixon wasn’t about to let the situation rest, and came back at the Corvette. He narrowed the gap back down again, and closed to within a second of the 2010 Le Mans winner as the pair resumed the fight down the Mulsanne straight, Dixon getting the job done just as the next round of stops commenced.
At the front Kevin Estre had extended the #92 Porsche’s lead by ten seconds; the advantage over the #91 car now 2 minutes 34 seconds. The gap to third had increased too, with Joey Hand some 33 seconds adrift of the Rothmans-liveried Porsche, Lietz still aboard and pedalling hard.
Antonio Giovinazzi was in potential trouble. The #52 AF Corse car was suspected of having exceeded the pit lane speed limit, the stewards considering the situation for the best of the GTE-Pro Ferraris. The allocated penalty is awaited.
The hour passed with the #92 leading by two-and-a-half minutes from the #91, with the #68 and #67 Fords third and fourth, followed by the #63 Corvette fifth, but only very narrowly from a hard-chasing Briscoe in the #69 Ford GT.
Steady in the 3:55’s and unflustered, Matt Campbell was pressing on at the head of the ‘Am field, his advantage more than 3 minutes over Ben Keating’s #85 Ferrari, which had risen through the order overnight.
Franc Castellacci was still in touch for Spirit of Race in third, the Ferrari 17 seconds away from the Keating Motorsports machine.
Martin Little & Marcus Potts