There were no major changes in LMP1 over the last hour with Sébastien Buemi maintaining a 40 second lead over Mike Conway. The #8 Toyota TS050 led though Conway in the #7 Toyota was able to arrest the slide that the car experience in the previous hour.
From losing a few seconds per lap, the gap stabilised with lap times in the 3:20s to 3:22s depending on traffic.
André Lotterer in the #1 Rebellion R13 turned in some of the best sectors for that car and now sits under 30 seconds behind the #3 Rebellion R13.
After the heavy crash in the last hour for the #10 DragonSpeed BR1, the car was officially retired during the hour, leaving the distant SMP #11 and Ginetta #5 as the remaining competitors in LMP1.
Of note for the SMP entry, Mikhail Aleshin put in the fastest lap for the car dipping into the 3:20s with a time of 3:20.949
Equally there was no major change in the LMP2 field. G-Drive Racing with Roman Rusinov continued to lead with the #26 enjoying a lap lead on the field. At the end of the hour, the car pitted with Jean-Eric Vergne jumping into the car.
Given the attrition in LMP1, the G-Drive sits fifth overall, behind the Toyotas and the Rebellions.
Timothé Buret in the #23 Panis Barthez Ligier continues to sit in a comfortable second place while Nicolas Lapierre jumped out of the third placed #36 SIgnatech Alpine for Pierre Thiriet.
The hour was relatively trouble free for the class with only the #31 DragonSpeed Dallara visiting the pits with what looked like an issue.
As the race moved into its eighteenth hour, the battle for fifth place in GTE-Pro headed for the pits, with positions reversed as the Corvette crew put together the slicker stop to return Antonio Garcia out on track ahead of Ryan Briscoe in the #69 Ford. The gap was slim though; only 1.5 seconds separating the pair.
The #52 Ferrari’s expected Drive-Through penalty was doled out. Holding 7th place in Pro, and with Toni Vilander aboard, the penalty would be cushioned by the car’s two-laps advantage over his #51 AF Corse team-mate James Calado.
At 3:50.569 Toni Vilander sets a notable fastest race lap for the #52 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo. Meanwhile, a brake change for the #67 Ford was proven to be a decent idea as the #66 car was seen out-braking itself at Mulsanne Corner and narrowly avoiding the gravel.
Calado had done well to haul the Ferrari through the night after earlier damage and difficulties, and his efforts weren’t yet over. Ten minutes before the hour, Calado worked his way through the Porsche Curves to arrive on the tail of Christensen in the leading pink Porsche, and as the two cars twitched out onto the startline straight, between the tribunes, the Ferrari tucked up so close under the wing of the #92 that it seems they must have touched. Passing under the new lighting gantry, Calado jigged over to the right, drafting by the pink Porsche to unlap itself on the run into Dunlop.
The relative ease with which Calado got the better of Christensen told its own story. The #92 driver has, perhaps, been told to take things a little easier, and use the hefty two-and-a half minute lead to ease the mechanical pressure off the leading Porsche. Certainly his times, typically in the low 3:52s and 53s, is off the class pace, where those ‘on the move’ (and including Garcia and most of the Fords) are typically lapping in the low fifty-ones.
Proof of that came when Antonio Garcia set a new fastest lap for the #63 Corvette. Unseen by many, the Corvette had been edge steadily forwards, with Garcia making stealthy progress towards the #68 Ford in third. This was a classic Corvette performance, timing a move carefully, years of experience at Le Mans in the strategic mix. Garcia ticked off a fastest Sector 2 time before delivering the car’s fastest lap of the race in the low 3:50’s, extending the gap to Ryan Briscoe’s #69 Ford.
Tim Pappas had a minor rotation going into the Dunlop Chicane, apparently harmless for the #99 Porsche, which held fifth position, but costly in the sense that some of the time hard-earned by Pat Long in the American’s previous stint went for nothing.
Matt Campbell’s Dempsey-Proton Porsche pressed on, the Aussie now well into the Pro field on the timing screens, 34th overall. The chasing four cars were on the leader’s lap but the #77 looked to have the situation well under control. Ben Keating was pushing Giancarlo Fisichella for second place, the deficit being nibbled rather than eaten into, Fisi responding with a fastest Sector 2 time.
Martin Little & Marcus Potts