Five minutes into the third hour and Bruno Senna pitted the #1 Rebellion for the car’s fourth scheduled stop. Seven minutes later and the ByKolles came in, with Radio Le Mans’ Andrew Marriott reporting the team changed the nose of the car as well as refuelling it.
Two hours and 15 minutes into the race, Senna spun the Rebellion leaving the forest esses, and although he didn’t hit any barriers or other cars, he did lose multiple seconds while getting the car pointing the right way.
SMP then pitted both cars, with the first LMP1 driver changes taking place. Egor Orudzhev, who set the fastest non-hybrid time in qualifying, climbed aboard the fifth-placed #17, while Stoffel Vandoorne got into the #11, which was chasing third-placed Gustavo Menezes, who had been in the #3 Rebellion since the start of the race.
Soon after, Menezes pitted and handed the car over to Frenchman Nathanael Berthon, while Senna pitted for #1 Rebellion’s fifth stop. The car was briefly pushed back into the garage with Andre Lotterer inside, with the nose being replaced and the back of the car receiving some attention.
A lap later, Sebastien Buemi pitted #8 Toyota, with Fernando Alonso replacing him. Mike Conway also the #7 Toyota pitted after 43 laps at the wheel, with Kamui Kobayashi taking his place. However, Kobayashi continued building the gap over the two-time Formula 1 world champion, with a gap of around a minute by the end of the hour.
Next up was Berthon in the #3 Rebellion, a further 50 seconds behind, with Vandoorne just over 30 seconds adrift in fifth. Russian youngster Orudzhev rounded out the frontrunners, 20 seconds behind his team-mate.
Oliver Webb in the #4 ByKolles was still in among the LMP2 field, as was Lotterer in the #1 Rebellion, both of them working their way past the slower class cars in an attempt to catch Orudzhev and the rest of the LMP1 field.
Finally, Henrik Hedman replaced Ben Hanley in the #10 DragonSpeed, but the car was still 50th overall, multiple laps off the other LMP1s as Hedman attempted to make up for lost time which had been spent in the garage.
Job van Uitert has taken the lead of the LMP2 Class in the #26 G-Drive Oreca, after receiving the car from Jean-Eric Vergne.
As expected, Vergne continued to reel in Nicolas Lapierre (#36 Signatech Alpine) at the start of the hour, finding himself just half a second back from the class lead with five minutes of the hour complete. However, instead of catching and passing, the gap seemed to stabilise at roughly a second, thanks in part to traffic for Vergne.
Meanwhile, Stephane Richelmi (#38 Jackie Chan DC Oreca) rapidly reeled in – and passed – the #31 Dragonspeed Oreca of Roberto Gonzalez for third in the P2 race, as Nyck De Vries pitted the #29 Racing Team Nederland Dallara out of that position at the same time.
At 25 minutes into the third hour, the leading LMP2s pitted again. Vergne hopped out of the second-placed G-Drive Oreca, handing over to van Uitert. The Frenchman seemed satisfied with his stint, but seemed to suggest that he had driven quite conservatively at times; if that was the case, and G-Drive has some more pace in-pocket, they could well be a force to be reckoned with all race long.
Lapierre stayed in the leading Signatech Alpine for another stint.
Elsewhere, the #39 Graff Oreca broke into the top 10 after starting from the back of the class order after being stripped of class pole. Vincent Capillaire took over the Graff entry halfway through the third hour.
Meanwhile, a Full Course Yellow infringement for the #26 G-Drive Oreca in a previous stint resulted in the application of a 10-second penalty added to its next pitstop; the gap between Van Uitert and race leader Lapierre was five seconds with 45 minutes of the hour elapsed, and that would surely extend after the slightly longer stop for the G-Drive entry.
As this penalty was applied, another FCY came out, this time because of a puncture for Nyck De Vries in the Jumbo-backed Dutch Dallara. This happened just moments after a scheduled stop for De Vries, who would find himself well out of the top 10 courtesy of this drama.
Therefore, the third place fell to the #31 Dragonspeed Oreca of Roberto Gonzalez, but not by much; Jordan King (#37 Jackie Chan DC Oreca) was just half a second back, and Stephane Richelmi was also close behind after falling to fifth in the prior round of stops.
Sure enough, just as the new hour began, King passed Gonzalez for third at the Mulsanne Corner, moments before they both came into the pits.
Meanwhile, the top two were still in close proximity, with Lapierre coming under attack from Van Uitert, who managed to pass the Signatech car at the second Mulsanne Chicane as the fourth hour began. The pair were some 90 seconds clear of the chasing pack in class, before the third-placed battle pitted.
The Corvette #63 still leads with Jan Magnussen behind the wheel, but may have to pit again after taking fuel during a full-course yellow. That could hand the lead to the #67 Ford of Jonathan Bomarito, but that car is also under investigation for a pit-stop infraction.
Despite the confusion at the end of the hour, much of the running provided great on-track action and fights. There was a great scrap for the minor places during the hour with six cars running line astern. Leading the line was the #67 Ford of Bomarito. Then barely 10 seconds behind were the #51 Ferrari, #92 and #91 Porsche, #71 Ferrari and #68 Ford.
The cars were battling hard in the train around the prototypes that were lapping them. Of note was Richard Lietz in the #92 Porsche. He started the hour in third, but suffered from understeer throughout the hour and dropped down.
Lietz was involved in a great fight with James Calado in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari, who put two wheels off the track to make a pass, and with his own team-mate Michael Christensen, but was able to hold his spot and stabilised his performance to remain in with a chance, despite being shown a black-and-white flag for track limits.
Though as the hour went on, Calado in the #51 Ferrari gained more pace to take third, behind the leading #63 Corvette and the #93 Porsche.
The #69 Ford with Richard Westbrook on board spun at the Dunlop Curves after trying to pass the Spirit of Race Ferrari and getting pinched at the apex. Westbrook was able to continue, losing around six seconds and flat-spotting the tyres. Fortunately for the Ford team, it was at the end of the stint and tyres would soon be changed.
Drama then came for the #93 Porsche who had to serve a 10-second penalty at its pitstop for track-limits infringements, though the damage to its race chances is limited despite the tight field.
The pitstop cycle commenced as usual about 40 minutes through the session, with the #93 first to pit and serve its time penalty. It dropped the car initially to seventh, but climbed back inside the top three when the rest took their pitstops.
A full-course caution for debris created havoc for the leading GTE Pro #63 Corvette and the #51 AF Corse Ferrari, who had to put in for emergency fuel – only five seconds’ worth – meaning they’ll have to pit again out of sequence.
The AF Corse car came back in for a full service before the end of the hour, dropping them it of the top three. The pole-sitting car, the #95 Aston Martin, has struggled for pace in the race and sits 12th in class.
Porsche continues to lead the GTE Am field as Julien Andlauer drove a faultless stint in the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche.
The field was well behaved through the hour with just a couple of battles on the track. The most interesting of which was the Ferrari battle between the #62 Weathertech machine of Toni Vilander and the #84 JMW car of Rodrigo Bapista. The two were barely a second apart for most of the hour.
As for the #98 Aston Martin, originally with Pedro Lamy, now with Mattias Lauda, at the wheel, it lost some six laps in the pits fixing the power-steering problem and has dropped to last. They’re chasing the equally troubled #88 Dempsey-Proton Porsche, which managed to remain on track for the hour, unlike its early-race escapades.
The #60 Kessel Racing Ferrari was issued with a 10-second penalty to be served at its pitstop for track-limits infractions. At the end of the hour, the car sits 13th in class.
There was also concern for the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin, which was running slowly on track before having a close moment in the pits with a Ford but seemingly has resumed without issue.
The #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche with Andlauer led throughout the session, consolidating the lead over the #85 Ford and the two duelling Ferraris. After the stops, Bapista was third in the #84 JMW Ferrari ahead of Cooper MacNeill, who took over the #62 Ferrari.