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Le Mans 24 Hours: Hours 21-22, As It Happened, Another Safety-Car Shakeup Hits GTE Pro

Toyota, Signatech, Keating hold other class leads

LMP1

At the top of the hour, Fernando Alonso took over the #8 Toyota from Sebastien Buemi. Berthon also pitted the #3 Rebellion from sixth overall, but soon caught the LMP2 leader after both had stopped, to take fifth back. He was, however, still five laps off the back of the #1 Rebellion in fourth.

The leading #7 Toyota, now with Kamui Kobayashi at the wheel, was around two minutes to the good over Alonso when the safety car was scrambled to recover the stricken LMP2 at Indianapolis.

Once the safety car came in, the gaps remained largely the same, with Mikhail Aleshin in the #11 SMP five laps behind Alonso, while the #1 Rebellion, piloted by Neel Jani, followed a further three laps back in fourth. Rounding out the class was Thomas Laurent, trying to close the six-lap gap the #3 Rebellion had to its team-mate due to the brake issues in the previous two hours.

Inside three hours to go, the #11 SMP slipped back to six laps behind due to the superior pace and reliability showed by the two Toyotas. Indeed, with two and half hours left, neither Toyota had been pushed back into the garage during the race, and it was the same for the third-placed #11 SMP.

With two hours to go and Kobayashi had a lap’s lead over Alonso, who would need to hand the #8 Toyota over to Kazuki Nakajima in order for the Japanese driver to meet the minimum drive-time requirement of six hours. Alonso had a gap of six laps to Vitaly Petrov in the #11 SMP, while Jani was a further three laps behind in the #1 Rebellion. Finally, in the #3 Rebellion, Thomas Laurent was still driving the wheels off the car, but with six laps’ gap to Jani, it was looking more and more unlikely he’d be able to advance in the final hours.

LMP2

Dramas down the LMP2 order started off the final four hours of the race. The #43 RLR Motorsport Oreca hit trouble in pit lane, leaking oil onto the apron and eventually going into the garage. Then, with 20 minutes of the 21st hour in the books, the #29 Racing Team Nederland Dallara of Nyck De Vries found the barriers at Indianapolis; the car entered the fast right-hander normally, but seemingly straight-lined at the apex, looking more like a failure of car or tyre than driver, which De Vries confirmed later on Twitter.

He wrote: “That was a big one! Something broke at the right front side of the car which meant straight into the barriers at Indianapolis.”

Remarkably, the young Dutchman managed to drag the car home from the impact, allowing the team to set about working on the car, which had sustained major front-end damage. The team managed to repair the car, which fell from 10th to 16th in class.

The incident triggered a Safety Car, and while the top three in class – led by Nicolas Lapierre in the #36 Signatech Alpine – were still spread out, the battle for fourth made for a mouthwatering prospect as the green flag waved with three hours and 15 minutes on the clock.

Romain Dumas held the position in the #30 Duqueine Engineering Oreca, with Filipe Albuquerque behind in the #22 United Autosports Ligier. However, before things could really hot up between the two sportscar stalwarts, Dumas made his stop; nonetheless, the battle would resume when Albuquerque made his stop after the three hours to go mark, handing over to Paul di Resta.

Once the stop was made, di Resta came out just ahead of Dumas, but the Frenchman found a way by the Scot. The battle did not immediately defuse, though, with the gap scarcely extending beyond two seconds over the next few laps. However, di Resta could never quite get close enough to make a move before Dumas made his pitstop and handed over to Pierre Ragues.

Once di Resta made his stop, he came out clear of the silver-rated Ragues to take back fourth in class, but only with a half-dozen seconds in hand in the fourth place fight.

Out front, the #36 Alpine team is still a lap clear at the head of the pace, now with Andre Negrao at the wheel. Gabriel Aubry is next in the order at the wheel of the #38 Oreca, a little over two minutes and 30 second clear of the third place #28 TDS Racing Oreca driven by Matthieu Vaxiviere.

GTE Pro

There was plenty of drama in the GTE Pro class as the complexion of the lead battle changed significantly. Still leading is the #51 AF Corse Ferrari, with Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado taking the bulk of the duties, with Daniel Serra being at the wheel a 1pm local time.

However, their challenge no longer comes from the #63 Corvette as Jan Magnussen spun at the Porsche Curves. He made light contact with the barriers and had to return to the garage for repairs. The car spent three laps in the garage and dropped to eighth.

Magnussen had just jumped in the car and the incident happened after a safety-car period. He had previously been held up at the pit exit, losing time in the safety car period but the accident certainly ended their chances for the win.

That left the two Porsches – the #91 and #93 – to challenge for the win. Gimmi Bruni in the #91 had been on a charge, setting its best lap of the race in the 21st hour. But their chances of the Porsches were hampered by 10-second penalties – the #93 for a slow zone infraction and the #91 for a pitstop infraction.

They’re still within reach of the lead, but may need some luck as the safety-car period also extended the gap to the lead Ferrari. They’re about a minute off the lead of the class, but are a pitstop down.

At the top of the hour, it was Nick Tandy in second and Frederic Makowiecki in third.

The problems with the Corvette lifted the quartet of Fords to battle for fourth to seventh. The lead car was the #68 with Dirk Muller at the wheel. The #67, #68 and #66 made up the train with wide gaps between them all.

There was also some concern about oil laid down by a prototype car in the pitlane. The oil spill was directly out front of the Porsche garages. The team and officials were able to clean the spill, but it was an unwanted distraction for the team.

After taking pole, the Aston Martin Racing team endured a torrid race, falling back quickly and never featuring in the running. They were forced to take a BoP adjustment after qualifying which undoubtedly hurt the team. Added to their woes was heavy tyre wear meaning they were always going to struggle to match their compatriots over a double stint.

The level of frustration was set down on Twitter by Dr Andy Palmer, president and CEO of Aston Martin Lagonda. “A torrid weekend on the racetrack. Being beaten by the BoP decision rather than on the race track sits uneasily. I hope we can look forward to complete transparency of these adjustments in future for the sake of the fans and the credibility of the sport.”

“The power downgrade worked the tyres harder and we saw more degradation as our gladiator drivers pushed to the edge. The #95 crash was a big one but I’m pleased to say that Marco Sorensen is ok. While on track didn’t go as we planned, the rest of the weekend has been wonderful.

“I’d like to thank our customers for their support.. to our fans, thank you for your support; to my staff for working above and beyond and finally to Aston Martin Racing and David King for never giving up – the spirit of Aston Martin.”

GTE Am

The fight for the GTE Am prize has come alive with just two hours to go. Ben Keating in the Keating Ford is still in the lead, but there are now five cars on the lead lap.

The Ford took tyres and fuel with two hours to go and while the car was in the pits, they took the opportunity to repair some minor damage at the front.

Tactics are playing a vital role in the race, with the Am driving time playing key role. Keating has spent much of the final section of the race behind the wheel, double-stinting to get to his minimum driving time.

With two hours left, Keating has to complete one more hour in the car before one of the other guns gets to take it to the flag. The stop left the car with a lead of over a minute.

Meanwhile, other cars, like the #84 JMW Ferrari and the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche, have ensured their Am driver time is complete, allowing the gun drivers Jeff Segal in the Ferrari and Matt Campbell in the Porsche to make up the lost laps and close in on the lead.

Also in the battle is the #56 Project 1 Porsche with Patrick Lindsay completing his driving time. That Porsche is currently in second ahead of the JMW Ferrari.

Fourth is the #61 Clearwater Ferrari with Matt Griffin attempting to close the gap. Campbell was in fourth and took his lap back on track before handing the car to Julian Andlauer. While there’s still more than two minutes from the lead car to the rest of the pack, the fight is now on.

Keating didn’t help his cause by making a small error on the final corner after a safety car period. The car didn’t sustain any damage but more time was lost. The car that dominated so much of the race now is starting to feel some pressure.