Under the night sky, the #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 Hybrid of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, and José María López leads after nine hours and 140 laps in the 88th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as their teammates Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima, and Brendon Hartley suffered a brake issue in their #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid.
During this three-hour block of racing, there were two Safety Car interventions, all directly or indirectly caused by two separate incidents involving prototype cars at the start of the seventh hour of the race.
With Canadian Bruno Spengler at the wheel, the #4 ByKolles ENSO CLM P1/01 suffered a rear-wing failure at speed, sending it spinning into the tyre barriers. Spengler was uninjured, and was even able to try and drive the car back to the garage – but not before stumbling into the barriers again as he tried to limp the car back to the pits. This incident was the initial trigger for the second Safety Car of the race.
Almost simultaneously, the #30 Duqueine Team Oreca 07 LMP2 of Tristan Gommendy clashed with the #22 United Autosport Oreca of Filipe Albuquerque at the approach to the first Mulsanne Chicane. Gommendy’s impact with the guardrail was hard enough to bend the barrier. But the best news of all is that because the barrier absorbed the energy of the impact, Tristan Gommendy was not seriously hurt, able to get into the Medical Car under his own power.
Of course, the barrier required over an hour of repairs and slow zones even after the safety car was withdrawn after a half-hour. Removing the various rescue vehicles at the site of Gommendy’s crash actually necessitated a quick third Safety Car intervention of the race after seven and a half hours of racing
During the first of these two Safety Car interventions, the #8 Toyota went to the garage to replace the right-front brakes. The reported issues with the brake duct cooling earlier in the race manifested into a potential crisis, but thanks to the Safety Car and the quick work of the Toyota Gazoo Racing mechanics, the #8 Toyota only lost one lap during the repairs and remains second overall.
Conway is back in the #7 car for his second stint, as is Buemi in the #8.
Rebellion Racing’s two R13-Gibsons are still third and fourth overall. The #1 Rebellion, now driven by Bruno Senna for the second time, is on the same lap as the #8 Toyota. The #3 Rebellion, now driven by Nathanaël Berthon, is still another lap behind.
Sadly, the ByKolles’ accident in the seventh hour has indeed proven terminal, retiring after 8 hours, 20 minutes. In the CLM P1/01’s sixth straight year at Le Mans, it failed to finish for the fifth consecutive time. The only time it ever took the chequered flag on-track was in 2015 – but without enough laps to be classified, and to add insult to injury, they were excluded after the race for a ballast weight infringement. A car fielded by Colin Kolles hasn’t finished this race since 2009.
In LMP2, an alternator failure struck down the leading #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07 of Gabriel Aubry, Ho-Pin Tung, and Will Stevens in the seventh hour of the race, and after over an hour in the garage for repairs, they’re now 22 laps down and virtually eliminated from contention.
Leading in the #32 United Autosports Oreca is Job van Uitert, who just completed 135 laps. Roman Rusinov was second in the #26 G-Drive Aurus 01, despite a drive-through penalty for co-driver Jean-Éric Vergne – however just as of publication Rusinov is reporting a loss of power -check back for more in our next installment!
Classified third in class is the #22 United Oreca, now driven by Philip Hanson, with Antonio Felix da Costa now in the Goodyear-clad #38 JOTA Sport Oreca, running fourth.
Panis Racing are fifth in the #31 Oreca, now in the hands of Nico Jamin. James Allen is back in the #39 SO24-Graff Racing oreca, running sixth.
Richard Mille Racing Team are running eighth, that Oreca now piloted by Sophia Flörsch, she’s in-between the two DragonSpeed USA Orecas, the #27 of Ben Hanley (7th), and the #21 of Timothé Buret (9th). The highest non-Oreca is still the #47 Cetilar Racing Dallara P217 in tenth, driven by Roberto Lacorte.
We’ve also seen trouble for the #16 G-Drive/Algarve Pro Racing Aurus of Ryan Cullen, Oliver Jarvis, and two-time overall winner Nick Tandy, also suffering from mechanical troubles, they’re still in the garage as of publication.
The pendulum swings back to Aston
A pivotal sector of the race saw its first Full Course Caution neutralise performance and present a chance to Aston Martin Racing to adjust tyre strategy. With the #97 Aston Martin now leading from the #51 Ferrari, this was the outcome of steady development of pace and well considered adaption of the car to conditions. For the moment at least, the pendulum has swung back towards Aston Martin, however the AF Corse position for Ferrari seems in no way disadvantaged.
The first safety car period of the race had affected GTE-Pro track positions significantly and with pit stop sequences now somewhat disrupted Alex Lynn’s #97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage emerged as the leader, Alessandro Pier Guidi’s #51 Ferrari second, though several seconds adrift as the Slow Zone flattened lap times. The big loser through the caution period was third placed Miguel Molina, the Spaniard’s #71 Ferrari nearly a minute and a half off his team mate’s lead.
The #95 Aston Martin is now in a lonely fourth place, but importantly stays on the lead lap. A 50 second gap now to fifth place in class, held now by the Risi Competizione Ferrari, Sebastien Bourdais rallying the #82 car’s standing.
Aston Martin Racing’s tyre choices have come back on song through used of a mixed medium and soft combination (mediums to the rear to counteract high levels of torque). AF Corse’s earlier switch to a soft compound having been neutralised by the caution periods, Maxime Martin turned up the wick to get within two seconds of Pier Guidi’s lead.
The Weathertech Racing Ferrari was hanging in for sixth, but with the remaining #91 Porsche now right on its tailpipe. The Porsche’s 3:55’s were 2 seconds off the leader’s times and was struggling to overhaul the Ferrari. The position would be decided in the pits though, Richard Lietz finally exiting ahead of Jeff Segal in the #63 car, who would then lose the car at the Forest Esses, a failure of the front shock delivering the car back to its garage, the car rejoining as the hour closed.
The top three in GTE-Am are currently the focus of the race. The #90 TF Sport entry in the hands of Charlie Eastwood has retained its advantage in an Aston Martin 1-2, Ross Gunn’s #98 Vantage AMR within 5 seconds of the lead and on a charge. Nick Nielsen’s #83 Ferrari makes up a tight knit threesome.
Iron Lynx ‘s #75 Ferrari having benefitted from the FCY to assume the lead, Andrea Piccini pitted the car in the eighth hour with a power steering problem. This left Ross Gunn’s #98 Aston Martin back at the head of the Am field, the Safety Car period to cover movement of track maintenance vehicles compressed the field again, meaning the recovering Team Project 1 Porsche of Matteo Cairoli was tucked in tight now in second place. The championship leading #83 Ferrari was third, with TF Sport’s Aston Martin fourth. This quartet was well clear of the rest of the ‘Am field as the race went green again.
Nicklas Nielsen’s pace put the #83 Ferrari back in front, soon gapping Charlie Eastwood’s TF Sport Aston Martin, Ross Gunn’s Aston Martin glued to the back of the #90 car, Matteo Cairoli’s #56 Porsche in hot pursuit. The GTE-Am class was arguably providing the close fight normally expected of the Pro category.
The TF Sport crew turned around Charlie Eastwood’s routine stop in sufficient time to retain the class lead, but now this seems threatened. A close fight into the next hour is assured.