The 2019 edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours has been flying by — so much action, incident and intrigue. And during Hour 7, the LMP1 race came alive somewhat.
The hour started with one of the more remarkable sequences for a single car in recent history, the No. 3 Rebellion R-13, recovering from its lost time in the pits, driven by Thomas Laurent battling for third overall with Mikhail Aleshin.
Laurent, Toyota’s newly signed reserve driver, was on a charge and pulled off a remarkable move around the outside of the Russian through the Porsche Curves to take a podium spot. But the rain was still coming down, and making the conditions unpredictable.
Moments later, Laurent then put the car in the wall, the Frenchman losing the rear under braking into the Second Mulsanne Chicane, nose-diving the barriers. It sent him into a spin and destroyed the front-end. Luckily, the rear-end didn’t hit the barriers, which meant the team only needed to work on the front when it came in.
The Rebellion mechanics worked furiously and managed to get the car out in three minutes and 38 seconds — so fast that the team didn’t have time to think about it. And with that, he was on his way, didn’t lose a lap and proceeded to push hard to catch the two SMP Racing BR1s and re-claim a top-four spot.
”He seemed to hit it at the perfect angle. We managed to get back and a new nose on the car. We had to stay in for three minutes anyway under FCY, so we put it in the box to give it a full check around. He seems ok. It was wet and slippery; he lost it under braking,” Rebellion team manager Bart Hayden said.
After the caution caused by the Rebellion off, the Toyotas did battle up front. The No. 8 was suddenly within striking distance, thanks to the slow zone from Marcel Fassler’s crash, pitting while the Slow Zone was in place. The race went green, though, before the No. 7 could pit.
Kazuki Nakajima got past Jose Maria Lopez for the lead, but through traffic the Argentinian reclaimed the lead.
In the other classes it was far less frantic: The G-Drive Aurus leads LMP2 over the Signatech Alpine, the pair looking to be the main contenders now, running almost a minute ahead of the other class contenders.
Third is the No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing 07 Gibson, just three seconds ahead of the DragonSpeed ORECA.
For DragonSpeed team boss Elton Julian, it’s been a tale of two races for his two cars. The No. 10 has spent much of the race so far in the garage being repaired, while the No. 31 continues to fight hard up front in LMP2.
“We’ve just fixed the No. 10 again,” he said at the end of the hour. “It’s been the same all week — not that surprising. We’ve struggled with this machine since we got it. It’s really disappointing. I’m proud of Henrik Hedman for sticking around. Nobody in their right mind would stick around this long. But he understands what the team is about. Dallara needs to get things sorted out.
“On the other side we have an ORECA that runs, surprise, surprise. You have to love the fight at the front of LMP2. It’s really fun.”
GTE Pro is still tight, the factory battle getting, unsurprisingly, most of the screen time, as the top four continue to run within four seconds of one another. The No. 92 Porsche leads the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari now, with the No. 63 Corvette still in the fight in third, as the sole Chevy in the race.
In Am, Keating Motorsports’ Ford GT is pacing the field, and holds a minute lead now over the JMW Ferrari. A combination of the team’s strong driver line-up and the stoppages have helped the team create a healthy lead.
The Team Project 1 Porsche, which leads the Am points, after a quiet seven hours is now up to third. The team will run cautiously now, as its closest title rival, Spirit of Race, has dropped off the lead lap in the class.
At the very bottom of the screen sits the No. 88 Dempsey Proton Porsche, which has become the second retirement after the No. 63 Corvette.
“Satoshi (Hoshino, involved in multiple incidents today) is scared; he doesn’t want to take part again,” Matteo Cairoli said. “We are going to retire. Luck wasn’t on our side, but we’ve made too many mistakes. The guys did an amazing job to keep repairing the car. Safety first though.”