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Le Mans 24 Hours: Observations After Three Hours

A closer look at how things are unfolding throughout the field

LMP classes

In P1, the Toyotas have not been challenged, other than Menezes very briefly putting the #3 Rebellion into second overall on lap one. The Toyotas have also ran faultlessly, the clear track over the first quarter of an hour allowing Conway to build a healthy lead for the #7 over the #8 sister car. The Toyotas were also making their fuel mileage count and were stopping a lap later than the opposition by hour two.

The excitement in P1 was between the #3 Rebellion and the #11 SMP for third overall, Menezes being challenged by Petrov, but the Rebellion seems to be the quicker car. Once the front end was changed due to loss of dive planes on the initial one, and thanks to some better pitstops from Rebellion generally, the #3 went on to establish a clear third place.

The #1 Rebellion has already proved the problem car, however, with a puncture and then a loose wheel nut demoting them to eighth in class and putting them well down into the P2 order, exacerbated by an unusual spin coming through the right hander after the Dunlop pedestrian bridge.

DragonSpeed also had problems with damage to the floor, costing them 20 minutes in the pits and dropping them to 59th place overall. They also picked up a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for exceeding the fuel allowance for a stint. The SMP cars have run well and were only just on the cusp of falling off the lead lap after three hours, more due to the extra fuel mileage of the Toyotas than a lack of pace.

If Rebellion can keep the reliability up on #3, then #11 and #17 could have their work cut out to get onto the podium, but #3, #11 and #17 are all doing themselves proud so far

In P2, after the first pitstops, the #36 Signatech had taken the lead ahead of the #28 TDS, #26 G-Drive (doing very quick pitstops throughout, hopefully legally this time) and the #29, which made up four places in the first two corners, possibly due to van der Garde cutting part of the right-hander at Dunlop as the entire field arrived at once.

The #31 crew then began to establish themselves in the top three, having lost out to the tune of 20 seconds in the first round of pitstops by coming in when their sister P1 car was already in the box.

And #36 and #26 were pulling clear once Perrodo took over the #28, and when Gonzalez took over #31, de Vries took the #29 into third place. The #26 will suffer a 10-second penalty on its next pitstop, however, due to a failure to slow quickly enough at the start of a Full Course Yellow period.

P2 gave us some close fights within the top 10, particularly between #28, #26, #29 and then #37, #22, #20 and #25, but the reality is that it’ll take many more hours and a couple of sequences of driver changes before any meaningful pattern can establish itself here. It’s already clear that the pace of the slowest driver will be a massive part of deciding who ends up on the P2 podium.

GTE classes

At the end of the third hour and the fourth round of pit stops, a pattern has just started to form in this eagerly anticipated GTE-Pro contest. The FCY format adopted by race control has so far given the race short intermissions, but these have affected both GTE categories. The #93 Porsche’s 10-second penalty for a FCY infringement has temporarily quelled what has been a spectacular fight at the sharp end of the GTE Pro class, while a succession of misjudgements at the front of the Am class has overturned the order significantly.

Corvette Racing has played it cool all week. Some rapid laps in qualifying hinted at the race pace the cars are showing.The #63 Corvette resumed its long-held class lead in GTE-Pro, now at 10 seconds, ahead of the #51 AF Corse Ferrari. The body language of the lead car in the hands of Antonio Garcia was almost uncharacteristic of the iconic yellow cars, celebrating their 20th Le Mans appearance by really letting off the fireworks.

Second position currently for the #51 AF Corse should not be as surprising as it seems, as the car has stealthily risen through the melee after a low-profile week compared to other teams. It seems the Italian squad has been confidently doing its own thing, the results now starting to show. Thankfully unaffected by needing to pit just as the pitlane was closed under an FCY, James Calado worked hard before handing the car to Daniel Serra, who is currently looking quite comfortable.

Porsche had tried very hard indeed to establish control of the class, its four factory cars managing second place at best. Nick Tandy’s typically aggressive couple of stints were sturdily defended by Antonio Garcia, whose #63 Corvette had overhauled the leading and polesitting #95 Aston Martin of Nicki Thiim after a blistering opening lap. Tandy had not reacted sufficiently when the first FCY was thrown however, the penalty dropping the #93 car to fourth. At the close of the third hour, Porsche was still dangerously poised with its four cars, but seemed to be regrouping: the #92 and #93 cars forming an attacking stance, the #91 and #94 further back and in wait.

Aston Martin, perhaps feeling the effects of having its turbo boost reduced overnight, is struggling to keep up now after a solid showing on the first lap by Nicki Thiim to defend the #95 car’s pole position. The #97 Vantage was off the pace at the start, and the fiery pace shown by both cars in qualifying seems to have been rather smothered.

Ford’s situation is intriguing. Harry Tincknell’s #67 fought hard in the opening laps, but the sheer aggression of the #92 and #93 Porsches has perhaps driven the Ganassi team to withdraw from the arms race for the lead in a bid to stay out of trouble. With Fords currently fourth, fifth and sixth, that seems to have been a sensible move, Chip Ganassi stating: “We have four bullets in the gun and we’re going to use every one of them”.

What’s interesting is the extent by which this race could be won or lost at the pitstops. With several seconds the difference between ‘like’ stops in GTE Pro, this would make a big difference to track position where the gap has in many cases been so tight.

GTE Am’s hot favourite, the #88 Dempsey-Proton Porsche, was badly caught out by the first FCY of the race. Le Mans rookie Satoshi Hoshino went hard on the brakes on the approach to Indianapolis and spun the car in avoidance of the slowing Ferrari ahead of him. Without damage, but immediately pitting, the car dropped to 15th in class.

As Hoshino exited, he was pounced on by the Algarve Pro Racing LMP2 car into the Dunlop curve, the Porsche jerking right as the Japanese driver suddenly realised he was being lapped on his line, taking to the gravel in avoidance. Nervous reactions not getting the greatest start, a 21-second class deficit soon became something more conclusive as the Porsche appeared at its pit with right front damage, out of contention way too early.

The Project 1 Porsche and JMW Ferrari were tied together for most of the first three hours in the midfield, the better outcome of this long battle being the JMW Ferrari’s, which made the best of solid pit work to move up to third. Perhaps the most impressive performance so far though has been that of Keating Motorsport, moving up from 10th to second through a stellar triple stint from Jeroen Bleekemolen. “That was a good triple stint for me, we have a good car and everything’s to play for,” reported the Dutch driver.

Lamy’s #98 Aston had a lengthy stop; a power-steering issue halfway through second stint keeping the car in the garage. “Pedro complained about it for two laps, so we thought it was appropriate to stop the car. It’s about a 20-minute repair. Hopefully we’ll get it out soon and continue,” explained AMR Team Manager Paul Howarth. Mathias Lauda resumed two laps down on the class lead, the car’s Le Mans bid ruined.

What this now means for the Am title is that the class leader, the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche, is still in with a chance despite having all their points taken away last year. They look poised already for their sixth win of the season, and sixth win in seven races.