Just as the fans began to fill the stands trackside for what looked to be a grandstand finish in GTE Pro in the final hours of this race, it all changed when the AF Corse Ferrari, which had held a slim lead over the No. 63 Corvette, was handed a huge advantage.
The RLR MSport ORECA suffered a terminal engine failure in pit lane, while Nyck De Vries had a big off at Indianapolis in the Racing Team Nederland Dallara. The Dutchman lost control and went head-on into the barriers, severely damaging the front end, bringing out a safety car. De Vries managed to get going and back to the pits, the task ahead for the team’s mechanics mountainous to repair the front end.
And it was the safety car that changed it all. The GTE Pro contenders were spread across the three safety cars, splitting the class battles up. Initially the Corvette of Jan Magnussen was behind the AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado, setting up a two-way fight. But Corvette had to pit the No. 63, meaning Magnussen was forced to wait at the end of the pit lane as the safety car train drove past, and wait for the next one.
This gave the Ferrari a two-minute advantage at the front ahead of the Corvette and the gaggle of Porsches and Fords behind.
Once the race restarted, things changed again when Magnussen had a near-identical off to that of Gustavo Menezes early in the race, losing the rear end of the No. 63 through the Porsche Curves, and clouting the barriers head-on. This forced the Dane into the pits for repairs, dropping the car to eighth in class.
Corvette’s day, therefore, will end with no silverware: a tough pill to swallow after such a consistent run for the No. 63 in the No. 64’s absence.
“This may have decided GTE Pro now,” Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser, former Porsche GT boss said. “The four cars at the top have been split across three safety cars, the Ferrari has been given a big advantage. Sometimes the safety cars give, sometimes they take. It’s a pity because the race was so close after an excellent battle for 20 hours. But maybe another will come? We will see!”
This leaves the No. 51 Ferrari over a minute up win the No. 91 and No. 93 Porsches behind. The No. 68 Ford is now waiting in the wings to take the final podium spot in fourth.
GTE Am had a hairy moment too, Felipe Fraga going off at the Ford Chicanes and almost hitting the barriers. Thankfully, the Brazilian rejoined and is back at normal pace, almost three minutes clear of the Project 1 Porsche.
Third place switched during the Safety Car briefly. The JMW Ferrari was caught behind the No. 63 Corvette at the end of the pit lane and therefore lost a chunk of time. This briefly promoted the Clearwater Racing Ferrari to third, before it had to put. The British team is now back into third and hanging on.
Up front, the prototype classes, on the other hand, saw no major changes from the Safety Car. The No. 7 Toyota still leads the No. 8 by two minutes in LMP1. In LMP2, Signatech Alpine, with a lap lead over the No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA, can almost smell a second Le Mans win in a row, and an LMP2 title.