After 19 hours of racing at the Circuit de la Sarthe, the LMP2 class lead battle has been blown wide open.
The biggest event of the hour came in the opening minutes when the G-Drive Racing Aurus was brought in by Roman Rusinov for what looked to be a scheduled stop, before being pushed into the garage. The Russian spent an abnormal time with the driver door open speaking to his mechanics, who scrambled, took the rear bodywork off the Aurus and began looking at the gearbox actuator.
This cost the team the lead of the race, and a whole lot more. After a 20-minute stop, Rusinov rejoined seventh in class and four laps down on the class leader. It was a disaster for the Russian-flagged team, which had built a chunky lead and looked odds on for a win.
Signatech Alpine was, of course, the biggest benefactor, the French team now leading the way with Nicolas Lapierre running like clockwork, a lap ahead of the delayed No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA. It’s now a straight fight between the two LMP2 title-contending teams: the victor will win Le Mans, and take the world championship.
It also swings the tire battle the way of Michelin. Dunlop is looking for its ninth-straight Le Mans LMP2 win this weekend, and had supplied for the leader for much of the second half of the race. Now, though, Michelin is out front with Alpine. If it stays like this, Michelin will take a clean sweep of the four classes.
TDS Racing also gained a crucial position, the No. 28 of Loic Duval, Francois Perrodo and Matthieu Vaxiviere now up into third with a two lap advantage over the first of the United Autosports Ligiers – the No. 22 – which has recovered well from its door change and drive-through earlier in the race. Will the Anglo-American team take another podium at Le Mans today?
LMP1 also saw further drama, the No. 3 Rebellion again hitting trouble. This time it was Nathanael Berthon bringing the car into the pits with brake issues. The time lost allowed the No. 1 sister car to leapfrog the No. 3 in the running order for the first time all race. The No. 3, which at times looked odds-on for the final podium place, is now 14 laps off the leading No. 7 Toyota.
It was also revealed after the No. 3’s issues that the earlier three-minute penalty was handed out after the team gave the officials the wrong serial numbers for its tires. It was a clerical error that started this chain of events.
The GTE classes haven’t been door-to-door for a while now, but there’s still plenty to look forward to, particularly in Pro, with time winding down. We’re at a point now where cars are starting to break, and no lead seems safe as a result.
In Pro, AF Corse still leads at the end of each hour, and after a monster stint from Alessandro Pier Guidi the lead has grown to over a minute from the No. 63 Corvette of Antonio Garcia. The two contenders pitted about 20 minutes apart though, meaning Corvette does lead by a slim margin during each hour.
The No. 93 Porsche is still third and very much in the hunt too, but after a brake change has lost further time. The top seven are still on the lead lap though, and nothing is settled yet.
Am, meanwhile, looks increasingly like a one-horse race. Keating Motorsports has had the pace, and crucially the reliability, so far with its new Ford GT. Staying clean will be key, as Team Project 1, which is looking to bring its Porsche home and take the title, is unlikely to chip away much at the current three minute deficit. It also hasn’t been feeling much pressure from behind, where the JMW Ferrari is over a minute down the road and not closing in at any pace.
Standings to follow