The 17th hour of this race brought incidents and drama. The biggest event came early in the hour, when Pastor Maldonado went hard into the barriers at Tertre Rouge in the No. 31 DragonSpeed ORECA. The ex-F1 man tried unsuccessfully to get the car going again, but eventually had to climb out. It was a retirement on the spot, ending a rough ride for the American outfit in this year’s race.
Elton Julian’s team will bow out of the FIA WEC with a pair of DNFs in the season finale. Its BR1 in the LMP1 class managed just 76 laps, the fewest of any car in the race, after a plethora of issues prevented it from ever featuring at the head of the field. And now, with its LMP2 car a retirement, the team’s hopes of an LMP2 title, and podium at Le Mans, are also over.
The Safety Car period caused by Maldonado’s off then had an effect on the GTE Pro battle, where the AF Corse Ferrari which leads the way, pitted a lap after the second- and third-placed cars, the No. 63 Corvette and No. 93 Porsche. With the AF Ferrari making its stop under Safety Car conditions, its lead grew from 5.0s to a minute by the time the race got going again.
Daniel Serra’s task in the No. 51 is to build on that foundation and set the Italian team up for a win. He will be chased, though: Mike Rockenfeller and Patrick Pilet are installed in the Corvette and Porsche respectively. It’s a gap to monitor.
Once the race got going again, drama then hit the LMP1 class, where the Rebellion vs SMP Racing battle has been turned on its head once again. Gustavo Menezes was handed a three-minute stop and hold penalty for a violation of the tire rules, evaporating what had been a lead of just over three minutes.
When Menezes rejoined after both he and the No. 11 SMP Racing BR1 had pitted (SMP putting Stoffel Vandoorne in), he was just behind the Russian-flagged prototype, 1.2s back. The chase for third is now very much alive with seven hours remaining.
Up front in the class, the gap between the No. 7 and No. 8 Toyotas is two and a half minutes, team boss Rob Leupen explaining that the No. 7 crew has the edge due to a problem with the No. 8’s door that has been costing it time in the pits.
Elsewhere, the GTE Am fight has been static, though the Keating Motorsports’ Ford, which leads the class comfortably, did have an off into the gravel; Ben Keating perhaps pushing a little too hard here. The American crew still have a two minute buffer, though.
LMP2 was also static during the hour, aside from the DragonSpeed ORECA dropping down the order. G-Drive leads Alpine, with the No. 38 JCDC ORECA third. The pole-sitting TDS Racing ORECA is now up to fourth, Francois Perrodo inheriting the place after Maldonado’s off.