The two Toyota TS050 Hybrids have seized control in the battle for the overall lead in the 88th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with the #7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, and José Maria Lopez and the #8 Toyota of Sébastien Buemi having traded the lead throughout the second and third hours of the race.
In our Hour 1 report we mentioned that the #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid, made its second stop on Lap 14 – this was because of concerns over a vibration on the left-rear. That pit stop has now put the two Toyota Gazoo Racing cars on alternate strategies.
After a strong two and a half hour, 43-lap stint at the wheel, Conway gave way to the all-time lap record holder Kamui Kobayashi in the #7 Toyota, which has made four pit stops. That allowed Buemi to pass through to the overall lead for a brief time.
On Lap 47, the #8 Toyota finally made its fifth stop, and after 2 hours, 45 minutes, Buemi stepped out – and Brendon Hartley, 2017 winner with Porsche, stepped into the cockpit for his first stint at Le Mans since that victory three years ago.
After three hours, the #7 Toyota of Kobayashi is now back in front of the #8 Toyota of Hartley, by a margin of 1 minute, 22 seconds following a slow stop for the #8.
The two Rebellion Racing R13-Gibsons now run third and fourth, with the #1 – now 42 seconds back of the #8 Toyota – leading the #3. Bruno Senna was replaced by Gustavo Menezes after 42 laps in the #1 Rebellion, while Romain Dumas, in his 20th consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans, replaced Nathanaël Berthon in the #3 Rebellion after 41 laps.
Unfortunately, the first major mechanical issue for the #4 ByKolles ENSO CLM P1/01 has sent the perennial underdogs to the garage. Oliver Webb had relieved starting driver Tom Dillmann, but after 46 laps, the ByKolles went to the garage with an alternator issue. Everyone at ByKolles, and their supporters, are hoping this is not yet another terminal failure for the team that has not finished this race since 2009.
LMP2 has delivered early entertainment, and the story of the first few hours of the race has been the stellar form of 24-year-old James Allen in the Michelin-clad #39 SO24-Graff Racing Oreca 07. Starting from 13th, Allen was able to work his way into the lead of the P2 category by the end of the second hour of racing. Just before the 2 hour, 30 minute mark, Allen hopped out of his car from the class lead, yielding to co-driver Vincent Capillaire.
The other contenders in the race include the Goodyear-clad #38 JOTA Sport Oreca: Anthony Davidson started, reigning Formula E Champion Antonio Félix da Costa took over in the second stint, and just before the third hour, Roberto Gónzalez relieved Da Costa.
The two United Autosport Orecas are still in the mix , the #32 now being driven by Job van Uitert, and the #22 now being driven by Phil Hansen. Roman Rusinov stepped in for Jean-Éric Vergne in the #26 G-Drive Racing Aurus 01.
One other car to watch in LMP2 has been the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca, which was started by Will Stevens, and is running off-sequence after making an extra pit stop at the end of the first Slow Zone intervention during the first hour.
Of those contenders, the classification is such after the three-hour mark: The #37 JC/DC Oreca leads, the #39 SO24-Graff Oreca 2nd, the #22 United Oreca 3rd, the #26 G-Drive Aurus 4th, the #32 United Oreca 5th, the #38 JOTA Oreca 6th.
The #30 Duqueine Team Oreca, now driven by Konstantin Tereschenko, is 7th, battling the #31 Panis Team Oreca, now driven by Nico Jamin, which is 8th. John Falb is now in the #25 Algarve Pro Racing Oreca, running 9th.
High Class Racing’s #33 car had fallen down the order to 10th, after Kenta Yamashita was relieved by co-driver John Patterson, 68 years young, and now the oldest runner in the race after Dominique Bastien was denied a chance to drive. Best of the non-Orecas is still the #47 Cetilar Racing Dallara P217 of Giorgio Sernagiotto.
The #11 Eurointernational Ligier P217 stopped at the side of the esses with a reported electrical problem after 1 hour, 40 minutes, and has now retired from the race, the first retirement in the LMP2 category.
97 Aston on top in Pro
With the #92 Porsche out of sync having had a front puncture, both Porsches were noticeably absent from the fight at the front. Lapping a second off the leaders’ pace, strategy or not there was a clear deficit. The GTE-Pro class was not displaying quite the same close dogfight characteristics as might have been expected, but the AF Corse Ferrari pairing was looking sturdy, mixing it with the Aston Martins to make up the top four positions.
Miguel Molina’s #71 car had exited the pits ahead of Maxime Martin’s #97 Aston Martin to assume the lead in the third stint, the #51 car that showed well in the opening stint in third with Alessandro Pier Guidi, the Marco Sorensen driven #96 Aston Martin running fourth.
Martin got the draft to take the lead on the Mulsanne as the leading pair drew clear of the pursuing Ferrari / Aston Martin pairing, as Michael Christensen’s #92 Porsche started to lap in the 3:53’s consistent with the leaders, his deficit to Sorensen beginning to stabilise. Are the Porsches waiting for the rain?
At the third round of pit stops, Aston Martin appeared to be double stinting tyres on the #97 car as Maxime Martin resumed the class lead, now extended to just under 10 seconds to Pier Guidi’s #51 Ferrari. Sam Bird had taken over the #71 AF Corse car and was tucked in behind for third, Sorensen’s Aston Martin now some 14 seconds adrift in fourth.
Down in GTE Am, into the second hour the focus shifted in favour of Aston Martin, Ross Gunn leading a 1-2 in the #98 car from Charlie Eastwood’s #90 TF Sport Vantage AMR.
The #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche finally limped its way back to the pits following its argument with the Porsche Chicane, as Porsche’s GTE-Am was now with the #56 Team Project 1 car. And with Larry ten Voorde belted in to the car there was little contest as the Dutch driver took 25 seconds out of the leading Astons and breezed past for the lead.
The #54 AF Corse Ferrari garaged and dropped out of contention, the Ferrari challenge was with the championship leading #83 AF Corse car that led a four-car train of 488 GTE Evos; the #72 Hub Auto, the #75 Iron Lynx and the #55 Spirit Of Race were covered by 15 seconds on the road.
As the third hour closed, the TF Sport Aston Martin was back into the lead of the class, Salih Yoluc having double stinted tyres to rejoin ahead of Ten Voorde’s Porsche.
The young Dutchman was reeling in the red Aston Martin at a rapid pace though, the class need imminent.