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Toyota, United, Aston Martin & TF Sport Hold Class Leads With The End In Sight

Problems for #1 Rebellion leaves #8 Toyota with comfortable advantage

The #8 Toyota TS050 of Brendon Hartley, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastian Buemi have extended their lead at the Le Mans 24 Hours thanks to minor problems for the #1 Rebellion R13 of Gustavo Menezes, Norman Nato, and Bruno Senna. An extended pit stop for the #1 costing just over a lap as the team worked to resolve a number of minor issues, ceding the second position on track to the sister #3 Rebellion R13 of Romain Dumas, Louis Deletraz and Nathanael Berthon.

The long stop from the #1 car happened just after the 18 hour mark, just as sunlight met the track surface. The 42 second gap between the two Rebellions after the #1 stop has closed down to only a few car lengths, as the #1 car appears to have better absolute pace than the sister car.

The end of the 21st hour of running featured a willing battle with the LMP1 cars all occupying the same piece of road. The leading #8 car lapping both Rebellions for a 5th time, while the #7 TS050 with Kamui Kobayashi at the wheel attempting to unlap itself from the Rebellions in the midst of the pair of R13’s squabbling over second place. Eventually, team orders were employed by the Rebellion team to preserve the cars and run line astern for the time being.

The #7 Toyota has been the fastest car on track for the last few hours, but has only just managed to gain one of the two laps it was behind the pair of Rebellions. It would be a herculean effort for the #7 to end the 2020 edition on the podium.

In LMP2, Felipe Albuquerque and United Autosports have a comfortable advantage over the #38 JOTA Sport Oreca, with the #26 G-Drive Aurus 01 sitting in third. Just over a lap separates first from third, with United and G-Drive entering the pits at the same time, separated by a lap of distance. The LMP2 battles in the top 10 have spread as the driver strategies have diverged but there were a few interesting skirmishes as dawn broke over the circuit.

Panis Racing’s #31 is sitting in a lonely fourth place, with a gap of a lap ahead to the G-Drive Aurus and a lap behind to the battle for 5th, which is a story of impressive recovery drives so far this race!

At the turn of the hour, the #36 Signatech Alpine holds 5th place with Andre Negrao behind the wheel, but owes a pit stop. That stop will likely return Charles Milesi the #39 So24-Has by Graff Oreca to 5th; the 19 year old Frenchman running lap times right in the mix with his more experienced contemporaries, maintaining the gap to those behind.

IDEC Sport holds 7th place with the #28 Oreca, which has been another impressive recovery drive in LMP2. The team started the race a lap down and now is in the mix for a top 5. Paul Lafargue making the move on the Cool Racing #42 Oreca for that position at around the 19 hour mark, before handing that car over to Richard Bradley.

Cool Racing have lost track position in this period of the race, but importantly bronze-rated Alexandre Coigny has now completed his required drive time for the race, allowing Borga and Lapierre free reign for the last few hours. Expect to see some serious pace from that car in the latter stages!

The #50 Richard Mille Racing Team Oreca and #25 Algarve Pro Racing Orecas complete the top 10, more than a lap behind 8th placed Cool Racing. Both teams have done well to avoid trouble and have slowly risen up the order as other cars have run into problems.

Astons still lead both GTE classes

Aston, Ferrari…Aston, Ferrari: two distinct pairings on track, the #97 Aston Martin Vantage AMR pedalled by Alex Lynn, Maxime Martin and Harry Tincknell forged on at the front of GTE-Pro, now into the top 20 overall, chased hard by the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo of James Calado, Alessandro Pier-Guidi and Daniel Serra, lapping a second quicker with Pier Guidi aboard, 3:51s his chasing pace. With these two out of sync with each other on pit stops the lead would shift between the two, but it was the Aston Martin that held the advantage of just under a minute. One of these was the likely GTE-Pro winner, the race now well into its last quarter, and although the Ferrari was holding a time advantage in the pits a late charge seems now to be starting to fade.

A lap back, the #95 Aston Martin of Nicki Thiim, Marco Sorensen and Richard Westbrook had a 5 second penalty added for a pit infringement, yet stayed ahead of the second-string AF Corse car of Davide Rigon, Sam Bird and Miguel Molina. Molina and Rigon shouldered much of the night running and were keeping the pressure on.

The Risi Ferrari sat in fifth, Jules Gounon also into the 3:51’s now, but with several laps to make up a drama ahead was the car’s remaining hope for improvement.

As the sun broke through the curtains at DSC Central, the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin’s solid performance at the front of GTE-Am had clearly consolidated its lead overnight. Jonny Adam and Charlie Eastwood had pressed on hard throughout, Salih Yoluc in robust support. The Bronze driver had completed his seat time but was back in for another stint before class victory handed back into the charge of his Platinum and Silver team mates. Adam had been wringing out his advantage by doing back-to-back stints, though the distinctive red liveried car was easing off the pace as fuel and reliability came into focus.

The following positions oscillated between the Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Nicklas Nielsen #83 AF Corse Ferrari, the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche of Matt Campbell, Christian Ried and Riccardo Pera, and the #56 Team Project 1 Porsche in the hands of Egidio Perfetti, Larry ten Voorde and Matteo Cairoli.

As their out-of-sync pit stops cycled through and drivers were changed, the #77 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche came out on top, but the fight for second place was well joined and arguably the liveliest scrap on track of any of the classes. Pera (#77) held an 8 second advantage to Ten Voorde (#56) in third, Nielsen (#83) just 6 seconds away in fourth.

With double points on offer, the championship leaders at AF Corse would understandably be considering their points deficit going into the final round at Bahrain should things finish as they stood, but with significant running left at La Sarthe this was in no way a conclusion.

Minimal caution periods had extended green flag running, but would the #83 car’s pit strategy give them track position at the finish?

The race in GTE-AM seems to be TF Sport’s to lose right now though.