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Le Mans 24 Hours: Hours 13-14, As It Happened, GTE Still Finely Poised

Stability in LMP2 and GTE Am, #7 Toyota begins to pull away in LMP1

LMP1

At the top of the hour, Fernando Alonso climbed aboard the #8 Toyota after Sebastien Buemi’s quintuple stint. A few laps later and Kamui Kobayashi also pitted the leading #7 Toyota, with the team fitting new rear bodywork while fuel went in. Halfway into the first hour and Kobayashi had an eight-second gap to his famous team-mate, with Nathanael Berthon a further three laps back in third.

By this point in the race, more than halfway in, the two Toyotas had made three fewer stops compared to the three following non-hybrids. Stoffel Vandoorne followed Berthon in the remaining #11 SMP, around a lap down, while Andre Lotterer was a further three laps back in the #1 Rebellion.

Alonso, Berthon and Vandoorne all pitted at roughly the same time for fuel, while Toyota replaced both the nose and tail section on the #8 Toyota at the same time. Rebellion and SMP both took the opportunity to change drivers, with Thomas Laurent taking over the #3 Rebellion and Mikhail Aleshin replacing Vandoorne in the #11 SMP. At the end of the hour, the gap stood at just over 20 seconds between the two hybrids.

Just before the end of the 13th hour, the #4 ByKolles stopped on track just after Arnage with Tom Dillmann onboard, bringing out local yellows and eventually a slow zone stretching to the end of the Porsche Curves as the car was moved behind a barrier.

Team radio communication from the #8 Toyota revealed that there was a small amount of floor damage on the car, which explained the ever-increasing gap to Kobayashi. At the end of the 14th hour, the gap had increased significantly to over a minute, with Thomas Laurent a further three laps back and Aleshin another lap back.

LMP2

The previously frenetic P2 class had settled down, with large gaps developing between the top three due to the safety cars splitting the cars of Roman Rusinov in the #26 G-Drive, Andre Negrao in the #36 Alpine and Ho-Pin Tung in the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing.

At the other end of the P2 field, Henning Enqvist managed to get the ARC Bratislava car back to the pitlane after his three crashes – in one lap – at Mulsanne, Indianapolis and the Porsche Curves. It looked in a very sorry state, with the front-right bodywork missing and the nose significantly bashed up. The team pushed it down the pitlane and back to the garage to begin repairing it to get to the end of the race.

Just over halfway into the first hour and Pastor Maldonado in the #31 DragonSpeed had caught, and passed, Tung in the #38 for the third and final class podium position. However, during the subsequent pit stops, Maldonado handed the car over to former Toyota and Peugeot driver Anthony Davidson, meaning Tung retook third.

Into the 14th hour and the #32 United Autosports Ligier developed an alternator problem, requiring it to be pushed into the garage for repairs, dropping it to towards the back of the P2 field, with Alex Brundle taking the car back out around 12 laps down from the class leaders.

Halfway into the 13th hour and the top three LMP2s all had full-service stops, including driver changes. Jean-Eric Vergne climbed on board the #26 G-Drive, while Nicolas Lapierre replaced Negrao in the #36 Alpine. In the #38 Jackie Chan car, Stephane Richelmi took over from Tung, but Anthony Davidson, slightly off-kilter with the other cars, took third with a five-second gap to Richelmi.

This switching of third and fourth positions continued as the two pitted on their different schedules, with the gap between third-placed Richelmi and fourth-placed Davidson up to 20 seconds by the end of the 14th hour.

GTE Pro

The GTE Pro battle heated up again through these hours with the slow zones and a slow pitstop cutting into the lead of Alessandro Pier Guidi in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari.

The #93 Porsche and #91 Porsche of Nick Tandy and Gimmi Bruni respectively are now within striking distance. There were problems for Porsche in the period, though, starting with Laurens Vanthoor and the #92.

Questions started to be raised when Vanthoor took a shorter stint. With most drivers doing two stints, he surprised by taking a stint-and-a-bit, jumping out at around the halfway mark. While it didn’t necessarily alter the course of the race for the #92 car, it did drop the team and new driver, Kevin Estre, behind the AF Corse Ferrari and into second.

It was followed by another short stint from Estre with only 10 laps completed – 10 laps at full pace. The car was quickly pushed into the garage for work to the exhaust to be undertaken. The team took the opportunity to change the brakes while they were in the garage. By the time they got out, the car had lost more than five laps and dropped to 12th in class.

At the time, it left the #51 Ferrari of Pier Guidi to extend their lead in the class to around 90 seconds over the #93 Porsche with Tandy at the wheel.

The gaggle of cars that included the #91 Porsche, three Fords and remaining Corvette continued their fight for second to sixth. The key for this development is that even if there is a safety car, under normal circumstances, the Ferrari would not lose its gap.

Oddly, the #94 Porsche reported an issue with the steering. Rather than being a problem outside of the cockpit, driver Mathieu Jaminet reported that the steering wheel was loose, although it wasn’t bad enough to draw the Frenchman back into the pits.

Luck would turn back to Porsche during the slow zone for the #4 car. Pier Guidi had passed through the slow zone, then it was rescinded before the Porches got to it, meaning the battle for second gained near a minute. With now a gap of 30-ish seconds, they came to be within a recoverable gap, particularly if there’s a safety-car period.

When the Ferrari made its pitstop, it was an extended stop for its brake pad change. Combined with the safety-car issue, this dropped the car to fourth and back to second when the Porsches made their pitstops, and then first when the Corvette made its stop.

The take-away from that, however, is that the cars are within striking distance of each other so that the order changes again with the pitstop strategy.

It should be noted that the cars in this class changed brakes during this period of the race, some going into the garage, others – like Corvette – doing it in pitlane.

GTE Am

The GTE Am battle consolidated what we had seen for the previous hours – the #85 Keating Ford continued to dominate and build its lead, which now nears two full laps.

The TF Sport Aston Martin had been able to consolidate its second place with Euan Hankey building a lead of almost a minute to the third-place scrap. However, at the top of the 14th hour, the Aston Martin went into the gravel on the Mulsanne.

It took the car out of the fight for second and brought out a slow zone, as well as allowing Jeff Segal in the #84 JMW Ferrari to take second in front of Egidio Perfetti in the #56 Project 1 Porsche. Robert Smith in the #52 WeatherTech Ferrari was in fourth, but a little off the fight for the podium. Then came the #61 Clearwater Ferrari with Matteo Cressoni and then the recovered Aston Martin.

Interestingly, while most of the scraps in the class were based around pitstop strategy, the Project 1 Porsche and JMW Ferrari were separated by less than five seconds. By the end of the hour, it had extended to more than 10 seconds, but the two cars are still relatively close on track.

Nearing the end of the 14th hour, the #77 Porsche was pushed into the garage to replace elements of the floor and front end after a possible off, sending that crew to ninth and most likely ending their chance of the WEC title.

The car had been in a fight that could have seen it in second if the strategy went its way, but this eliminated them from that fight.

To catch up on other cars that have been in the mix for this class, the early leader (the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari) had suffered an off and lies 11th in class, some four laps off the pace. The all-female car of Kessel Racing, currently with Rahel Frey behind the wheel, sits 12th in class.