LM24 Hour 3: Penalties spice up LMP2, GTE Pro battles

Image by Joe Portlock/LAT

LM24 Hour 3: Penalties spice up LMP2, GTE Pro battles

Le Mans/WEC

LM24 Hour 3: Penalties spice up LMP2, GTE Pro battles

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With Toyota holding station up front now (No. 7 leading the No. 8) — pushing, but with caution — it’s been up to the other classes to continue to provide entertainment and they have delivered.

LMP2 is still being led by Signatech Alpine (pictured above), but there has been plenty of moving and shaking behind. Quick times from Jean-Eric Vergne and later Job Van Uitert and quick stops have closed the gap between the leaders. But the G-Drive Racing Aurus, is due to lose time, after being handed a 10-second penalty (to be added to its next stop) for not respecting the full-course yellow procedure.

This will give Nicolas Lapierre a bit of a buffer, but there is the expectation that other teams will challenge later, as the Am drivers get time in each car.

DragonSpeed is currently third, with Roberto Gonzalez, the team’s Bronze aboard, the Mexican now over a minute off the lead. Behind him are the two JCDC ORECAs, the No. 37 leading the No. 38. Racing Team Nederland’s Dallara, which climbed as high as third, has seen its charge to the front halted by a puncture.

Nyck de Vries dropped to 16th in class after a tire blew on the Porsche Curves, which caused an FCY with 20 minutes to go in the hour.

Just outside the top five at this point, is the first of the Ligiers, the No. 22 from United Autosports, currently driven by Paul Di Resta, and the High Class Racing ORECA, the Danish team (which will join the WEC next season) has slowly, quietly climbed into the top 10 after Mathias Beche and Anders Fjordbach’s efforts.

GTE Pro, meanwhile, sees Corvette Racing’s No. 63 C7.R sitting in a remarkably similar position to the Alpine in P2. After Antonio Garcia’s stint, Jan Magnussen has climbed in and seamlessly transitioned into soaking up pressure from the challengers behind.

Like LMP2, the second-place car (the No. 93 Porsche) was handed a 10-second penalty for the same infraction, that means that the Dane has been handed a small buffer of 13 seconds over the No. 67 Ford which is back into contention.

The No. 93 is down to third, ahead of the first of the Ferraris, the No. 51 from AF Corse driven by James Calado. After a quiet week, AF Corse appears to be slowly becoming a contender in this race. Both its 488 GTE EVOs are climbing the standings, with the sister No. 71 (Sam Bird currently at the wheel), up to sixth.

Behind the No. 71, the order has also changed, the No. 92 Porsche from the brand’s WEC team down to ninth and the No. 64 Corvette sitting eighth behind the No. 91 Porsche. But, pit stops are playing a big role here, most of the moves coming during pit cycles rather than on-track battles at this point.

GTE Am has a clear leader now, the No. 77 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche leading the way by a comfortable margin of 20 seconds. Keating Motorsports Ford GT is second now, Jeroen Bleekemolen handed over to Felipe Fraga for his first-ever stint at Le Mans. All is well so far for the Wynn’s-backed team, which looks like an early podium contender.

The JMW Motorsports Ferrari is third, with the WeatherTech 488 fifth.

Spirit of Race’s No. 54 Ferrari, which led early on in the race has now dropped to seventh, the pace of its Amateur driver Thomas Flohr not good enough to keep it in the top five. It is early days, though, and as the driver stints cycle, the team should find itself in a strong position later in the race.

So, LMP1? It’s the No. 7 Toyota, leading the No. 8, the two TS050s now driven by Kamui Kobayashi and Fernando Alonso respectively. There’s a minute between them, and over three minutes between them and the first of the privateers.

“The car felt good, I could push and build a gap. We got through it, we’re happy with that. Nice to have a good buffer though. I’m surprised,” Conway said after his stint.

It’s been reasonably quiet for the No. 3 Rebellion which holds third. The No. 1 sister car had a moment, though, spinning at Tertre Rouge, Bruno Senna inches from the barriers after a slide.

“After the puncture (in Hour 2), Bruno was in the middle of his third stint on the new tires, and the left rear started to feel odd. He came in so we could check it — the wheel nut was loose, which is odd after 25 laps,” Rebellion team manager Bart Hayden said.

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