The #8 Toyota TS050 solidified its lead during the hour with Fernando Alonso putting in a string of fast laps – including dipping back into the 3:19s. It resulted in Alonso extending the lead to a gap of 1:38 over Jose Maria Lopez in the #7 Toyota.
Lopez did not help himself wiht a lazy spin on the exit of the first corner which lost him about 16 seconds.
Alonso has completed 336 laps completing his 33rd pitstops at the top of the hour. He remained in the car holding a gap of some 12 laps more than the Rebellions who are running in third and fourth.
It was Bruno Senna in the #1 Rebellion R13, who took the position in the last hour, extending the gap on his teammate to over 20 seconds before pitting at the top of the hour and handing over to Neel Jani.
After the stop there has been a drama for Jani with the left hand door ajar on the Rebellion. He had to slam the door shut half way round the track.
Due to the pitstop cycle Gustavo Menezes, now in the #3, was in third but he should drop to fourth when the pit stops cycle through.
As in the last hour, there has been a change in the LMP2 podium due to mechanical difficulties. The #48 Idec Sport ORECA had worked its way into a safe third position but pitted and was pushed into the garage.
The engine cover came off the car and at 11:37am, they lost their podium was lost to the #39 Graff SO24 ORECA with Vincent Capillaire at the wheel.
He has a 15 second advantage of the #32 United Autosports Ligier with Juan Pablo Montoya trying to get within reach of a podium.
At the head of the field continues to be the #26 G-Drive Engineering ORECA with Andrea Pizzitola maintaining a two lap advantage over #36 Signatech Alpine.
For the Panis Barthez Ligier that had run in the podium places for much of the race, they car had remained in the garage for more than an hour. They did get back out but are now running 14th in class, having completed 305 laps, compared to 323 of the leader.
The Algarve Pro Ligier that had spent so much time in the pits during the race had to retire during the hour due to further mechanical complications.
The drivers on track were no respecters of the passing hour, and the battle between Makowiecki and Bourdais waged on …
Priaulx was now out of the equation, having taken to the pits, his previous position and turn of speed perhaps flattering the car’s performance against the more heavily fuelled Porsche.
Free of the #67 Ford, the GTE-Pro situation became one of Porsche running P1 and P2 again, but with Bourdais and the #68 Ford GT right up with the #91 car in third.
These two appeared to be sharing a fuel strategy, and their pit window was equally similar. The two protagonists were evenly matched through the fast Porsche Curves sequence, lines millimetre perfect. The Porsche was shifting its line in its defence going onto the Mulsanne straight, fighting to defend as the Ford closed up under braking for the chicanes.
Makowiecki managed to gain a few tenths in passing a slower GTE-Am car, but Bourdais reeled in the Porsche, taking a look again on the Mulsanne, but not quite showing the nose of the Ford to the Porsche.
This was turning into a French stand-off of some proportion. Again and again Bourdais closed on Makowiecki, only for the Porsche driver to gain slightly better traction out of the corners. Weaving into the first ‘Forza’ chicane, the Porsche squeezed the Ford GT on the brakes, Bourdais complaining on the radio to his pit that Fred Mako’s move was “plain dangerous.”
The complaint obviously got through to the stewards, with a screen message confirming that the “driving standards of car #91” were under investigation. The faces of those watching from the Ford garage suggested some were quite unhappy at the defensive tactics being displayed.
Bourdais got past under braking using the draft of a passing LMP2 car, but Makowiecki wasn’t fazed, and forced his way back as the two emerged from Mulsanne Corner. He took to track limits in order to squeeze by, and then forcibly blocked Bourdais’ progress into Indianapolis. Trading paint and using every available space, the Porsche defended, moving across the track and forcing the Ford driver wide in his final attempt. The Porsche stayed ahead, but Bourdais’ crew clearly thought Makowiecki’s methods bordered on questionable.
The pit stops were approaching again and Bourdais was becoming more cautious, though still very much in touch with the blue and white Porsche.
The GTE-Pro race-leading Pink Porsche #92 took to the pits for fuel only, Vanthoor staying aboard, and rejoined still with 2 min 23 in hand.
The pair chasing second, however, pitted together. The outcome was wholly down to their crews. A driver change and tyres for the Ford, with Joey Hand climbing aboard, meant Makowiecki would emerge first. Furthermore, the stewards announced that “no further action” would be taken with regard to the actions of the #91 Porsche, possibly deciding that there was give-and-take on both sides, and each car had been on the limit throughout. This had been proper seat-of-the-pants motor racing and, for one of these writers at least, tolerable given the stakes.
As a result of the pit-stops it would now be Andy Priaulx who would take on Ford’s challenge in the #67 car, now six seconds behind Makowiecki.
Fred Makowiecki’s 3:50.201, set on lap 293, was the fastest lap of the race in GTE-Pro. Proof perhaps that, as the faster car, his spirited defence of second place was justified. Pulling away again, the gap to Priaulx was just under ten seconds, with Joey Hand a second further behind in the #68.
Things were starting to happen in GTE-Pro behind the recent focus of attention. Jan Magnussen was back in the #63 Corvette and posting some very quick sector times, notably on the Mulsanne, the popular Dane a minute-and-a-half behind the pair of Ford GT’s.
Richard Westbrook in the #69 third-string Ford GT was still in the picture, running sixth, some 16 seconds behind Magnussen, although the Corvette was pulling away at a second a lap. With three hours to go at Le Mans, at this pace anything can happen.
Anyone following the closely contested battle for second in Pro would need to have drawn breath only briefly to catch the fact that it was all “bushiness as usual” in GTE-Am.
The anticipated ‘pistols-at-dawn’ moment for the lead in the Am category simply never materialised, and an hour after the safety car had been withdrawn, gifting Bleekemolen forty seconds to close to within half a minute of the lead, the gap remained unchanged.
Both cars completed scheduled pitstops, with Andlauer staying aboard the #77, while Bleekemolen handed over the #85 Keating Motorsport Ferrari to Luca Stolz. The Spirit of Race Ferrari (#54) held fourth, but a full three minutes behind.
As the clock marked the approaching hour, the leader’s advantage remained stable at 25 seconds. The #77 had relinquished just five seconds in an hour’s racing.
Martin Little & Marcus Potts