It’s time for the final stretch. We’ve had 23 hours now of the 87th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours, and are left with just one to go.
What’s the story heading into the final hour? What’s still to play for? Well it appears that the GTE Am lead may not be settled after all. And LMP1! But we’ll get to that later.
The Keating Motorsports Ford came in for one of its final stops, to get a service done and a front-end change. Once the car rejoined a message from race control flashed up stating that the stop was being investigated. It appeared at first that the issue may be to do with who was servicing the car, as the Ganassi factory mechanics changed the front end of the GT, rather than the Keating crew. When quizzed, Bill Riley, who is calling the race for the team, wasn’t worried.
“The ACO asked us to change a nose, right now. So we went ahead and did it.” Riley said.
But, that wasn’t the issue — the issue was spinning the wheels, leaving tire marks when Ben Keating left the pit box. This prompted a stop-go-penalty for the team.
This is huge. The American team has been leading this race for most of the race in Am, and has had to make an extra trip to pit lane, after Project 1’s Porsche of Jorg Bergmiester had spent the last hour taking chunks of time out of Keating ahead.
The Texan came in, served the stop, and emerged just ahead of the Project 1 Porsche. Is it a harsh penalty? Many will say so, but the team had in this case, broken the rules.
We have a race on our hands, folks and both cars will need one more stop. It’s Keating vs Bergmeister with an hour to go.
Elsewhere, there seemed little to report, as it appears that Toyota, AF Corse and Signatech Alpine were closing in on victory. However, right at the end of the hour the No. 7 came in for an unscheduled stop, the team radio revealing that the car had a right-front puncture. Jose Maria Lopez didn’t lose too much time though, and seemed to have had a lucky escape.
But, just as the hour came to a close, Lopez was spotted slowing on track, stuck in third gear. The team was unsure if the cause was another puncture or a faulty sensor, and had to pull the car in again. The No. 8 therefore picked up an overall lead of nearly a full minute with Kazuki Nakajima at the wheel, but it too is expected to make a stop before the finish.
What will the final hour serve up?