There was a massive scare for the #7 Toyota TS050 with Kamui Kobayashi behind the wheel. The Japanese driver on the eleventh and last lap of his stint and due to come into the pits.
However, he missed the call from the team and continued onto lap 12. Upon realising the error and the fact the car would be short of fuel, the team instructed Kobayashi to engage the full course caution mode. This slowed the car down to 80km/h but importantly put the car in low power mode, enabling Kobayashi to save enough fuel to get back to the pits.
From the Dunlop Chicane to Arnage, the car ran at a snail’s pace and many thought that the Toyota curse had struck again. Fortunately though the team had saved enough fuel to get back to the pits.
The car was refuelled and Kobayashi went on his way, losing the lap to their teammates.
As a result, with one hour to go Kazuki Nakajima in the #8 Toyota TS050 held a one lap lead from their teammates.
For the Rebellion duo, Gustavo Menezes in the #3 Rebellion R13 held a 90 second lead on the #1 car driven by Neel Jani. They are now 10 laps off the second placed Toyota.
From the previous hour’s indiscretion in the pits where the #8 Toyota spun its wheels on the jacks in the pits, there has been no penalty issued to the car at this stage.
The SMP Racing BR1 continued with Jenson Button behind the wheel, some 58 laps off the pace.
The #5 Ginetta was back in the garage, this time with an alternator problem.
It has been line astern in LMP2 with Roman Rusinov still leading in the #26 G-Drive ORECA. The gap is now out to two laps from Nico Lapierre in the #36 Signatech Alpine and Tristan Gommendy in the Graff-SO24 ORECA.
Hugo De Sadeleer had been threatening to steal a podium place but a left rear puncture for the #32 United Autosports Ligier put paid to that effort. De Sadeleer lost around five minutes on the in lap and now sits behind Loïc Duval, fifth in class.
Duval is 75 seconds off the podium in his #28 TDS Racing ORECA with the United Autosports car a lap further behind.
Into Hour 23, the order at the front of GTE-Pro remained #92 Porsche / #91 Porsche / #68 Ford / #67 Ford.
Joey Hand was back aboard the #68 Ford, which was getting back in touch with the #91 Porsche for second. With the gap standing at 7.5 seconds, and being reduced by a couple of tenths per lap, this was by no means a done-deal for a Porsche 1-2.
Two laps later, and Joey Hand had made good progress; the gap narrowing to nearer six seconds. At this pace we could have a race in the pits.
Next time around Lietz took to the pitlane, staying aboard the #91, but Hand climbing out of the Ford so that Dirk Müller to resume. The gap just seemed too great though, Müller not really delivering the pace of his earlier race stints, although slow zones may have contributed to the #91 Porsche’s nineteen seconds advantage.
With the slow zone lifted, the #91 Porsche and the chasing Ford pair were running 3:51s, evenly matched, with the lead #92 Porsche in the mid 3:52s. Without further intervention or incident, matters in Pro were starting to look as if they could be rather settled.
Coming up to the hour the top five were still on the same lap, but with Porsche well in control at the front. The Fords were looking like they were waiting for something to fall their way, their efforts delivering a strong challenge that had ultimately been short-lived.
The #51 AF Corse Ferrari was back out on track having spent another lengthy period in its pit garage, the latest chapter in an uncharacteristically challenging event for the Italian team.
While the #7 Toyota was experiencing its own dramas, with Kobayashi apparently struggling to get back to the pits, the Team Project 1 Porsche was also having problems. The #56 was in the pits and staying there, dropping from 5th in class through to seventh before Bergmeister headed back out again.
Nearer the sharp end of the class, the #99 Porsche was still making up ground – not in the hands of Pat Long this time, but compatriot Spencer Pumpelly, setting the car’s fastest first sector of the race so far (and of the class at the time) in his enthusiasm to secure fourth, and close on third, before finishing his stint and handing back to … Pat Long.
This has not been Aston’s race, and the best showing of the day has been from the #90 TF Sport Vantage, which remained close to the middle-order in GTE-Am almost from the start. A spin through the early element of the Porsche Curves left the blue Aston stuck on the edge of the gravel, Euan Hankey working hard to get back onto the tarmac, but falling short by a handful of feet. Another slow zone was imposed around MP29 while the #90 was recovered.
At quarter to two the Keating Motorsport #85 came trundling down pitlane entry for fuel and tyres from third, Bleekemolen staying in the car as the crew worked around him. It was a routine pitstop for the Ferrari squad.
Giancarlo Fisichella had got back aboard the Spirit of Race Ferrari, pressing on to keep the #54 car’s second place as respectable as could be, with Matt Campbell’s lead for the #77 Porsche the best part of a lap.
Martin Little & Marcus Potts