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LM24 Hour 20: The Battle Hots Up in GTE-Pro

With LMP1 and LMP2 seemingly settled, bar disaster, eyes turn to GTE for all the on-track action

LMP1

Fernando Alonso continued to hold the lead in the #8 Toyota TS050 holding it steady at 1:20 over Jose Maria Lopez in the #7 car.

There was a scare for Lopez who got an arm full of opposite lock at Terte Rouge, leaving the road briefly but was able to continue without issue.

The Rebellions continued to lap in third and fourth, however Bruno Senna in the #1 Rebellion had taken the final podium sport from of Mathias Beche in the #3 Rebellion R13. The two are separated 10 seconds ahead with four hours to go.

The two cars were stretching their legs with Senna setting a purple sector time in the first sector during the hour.

Vitaly Petrov continued in the #11 SMP Racing BR1, stopping to replace the nose section. Equally the #5 Ginetta continued to circulate, with Léo Roussel to gain valuable miles in the car.

LMP2

There was heartbreak for the #23 Panis Barthez Competition team. They had been the surprise package of the race, running in a solid second place in the Ligier JSP217. Will Stevens had gotten the team to a solid second place, holding off the threat from the #36 Signatech Alpine.

However, the car visited the pits and was pushed into the garage early on in the hour, and was in there at the end of the hour, dropping to the end of the top 10 in class. It is unclear what the issue is with the car.

It has lifted Pierre Thiriet in the #36 Signatech Alpine to second in class, some two laps off the #26 G-Drive Engineering ORECA with Andrea Pizzitola at the wheel.

To date, the G-Drive Racing team has not put a foot wrong.

The pole sitting car, the #48 Idec Sport ORECA was promoted to third with Paul Loup Chatin at the wheel. They sit 20 seconds off the second place car.

There was a big fight for fourth with the #39 Graff SO-24 of Vincent Capillaire passing the #28 TDS Racing of François Perrodo on track. Since then the gap has widened through the pitstop cycle.

Sam Tickell

GTE-Pro

As the leading #92 Porsche took its 20th stop of the race, Christensen handing over to Vanthoor, all eyes were firmly on the visible gap between the second-placed #91 Porsche and the #68 Ganassi USA Ford GT.

Both cars pitted, both teams changed drivers. There wasn’t much in it, but the pitlane race was just won by the Porsche.

Fred Makowiecki was back at the wheel of the #91 car, and emerged ahead of the Ford, Bourdais now aboard the #68. The pair were nose-to-tail through the pit lane, the Porsche pulling a slight advantage as they hauled up through Dunlop and then down the hill beyond. Priaulx, pushing hard in the #67 Ford and on a lighter fuel load, joined in behind, working his way through until he was up tight on the tail of his team-mate, with the Rothman’s liveried Porsche just beyond. The trio began a stop/start battle between the slow zones.

At first the traffic favoured the Porsche, and Makowiecki earned a break as both Fords found their passage hampered by backmarkers through the slow zones. Released onto clear track, the #91 headed away up the road to extend the gap to just shy of 4 seconds.

Bourdais had Priaulx closing in on him, but the British driver was bottled up behind the #81 BMW, which although 36th overall had enough pace to withstand the pace of the Ford.

Priaulx got by the BMW, and then passed Bourdais on the Mulsanne, before Makowiecki made a mistake, onto the gravel and losing ground. Priaulx swooped, and made the move stick at Mulsanne Corner, but the duel wasn’t over yet, and the #91 fought back. Side by side on the blast down to Indianapolis, Priaulx had the line, the two touching through the right hand kink, but the #67 now had the better line, and was through into second place and able to pull away.

It wasn’t over yet for Makowiecki. He now had Bourdais all over the rear of the Porsche, twisting through the Porsche Curves, and out onto the .start of another lap.

The Ford had a slight straight-line advantage but the Porsche defended well, holding station down the Mulsanne for the next lap. Indeed, Makowiecki was able to draw away slightly, mounting a challenge on Priaulx on the approach to Indianapolis, where the Porsche seemed to have a slight edge. The performance difference between these cars was now quite clearly marginal, especially on the limit, and both were using all of the track width and more.

That was how the hour ended, so follow this into the 21st Hour …

GTE-Am

In GTE-Am Bleekemolen had eased the #85 Keating Ferrari clear of third-placed Flohr in the #54, 27 seconds now his advantage.

But the big news in GTE-Am was just breaking: Bleekemolen’s progress was impressive in itself, but the Safety Car period had reduced the #77 Dempsey-Proton’s lead to under 30 seconds with four hours still to run.

However, having anticipated a similar battle developing in GTE-Am as the excitement being generated in the Pro category, the effects of the safety car, which had brought Bleekemolen so much closer to the leading Dempsey-Proton Porsche, were to prove a false dawn. Over the next ten to fifteen minutes the gap didn’t change, suggesting that the Dutchman hadn’t got the legs to make good the promise. As we came up towards the end of the hour, the gap still stood at 28 seconds, and Andlauer appeared to have the situation under control.

Elsewhere in Am, there was little happening, with the remaining nine runners holding station, the closest margin aside from that of the leading two being 22 seconds separating the seventh placed Clearwater Ferrari from the Ebimotors Porsche in sixth.

Martin Little & Marcus Potts