LM 24, Hour 3: Lead Toyota ups pace, Penske surging in LMP2

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LM 24, Hour 3: Lead Toyota ups pace, Penske surging in LMP2

Le Mans/WEC

LM 24, Hour 3: Lead Toyota ups pace, Penske surging in LMP2

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Three hours into this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours and the pace is beginning to pick up at the head of the field.

The 1-2 for Toyota remains strong and comfortable, though the No. 7 continued to slowly edge away from the No. 8. After Sebastien Buemi struggled for pace from the start due to oversteer, the car No. 7 has begun to pull away. Jose Maria Lopez is now in after Mike Conway’s first stint, with Brendon Hartley in for Buemi. Hartley has been quick but not consistent enough to reel in Lopez.

Towards the end of the hour Lopez set the fastest lap of the race so far, a 3m28.809s, but that accolade would only last a short time, as Hartley immediately responded with a 3m28.232s of his own. That flash of pace hasn’t resulted in a closer battle for the lead, as the No. 8 was 26s back by the time Lopez pitted just before the end of the hour.

Third is the No. 708 Glickenhaus, which is nearly two minutes off the lead. But Romain Dumas, like the two Toyotas, was able to find pace in the hour, and bettered both Lopez and Hartley’s best time with a 3m28.110s. The No. 708 clearly has front-running pace. Over a stint though, it doesn’t have the consistency to keep up with the metronomic GR010s, it is also slower in the pits.

Just outside the top three sits the Alpine, which continues to fall back and is now off the lead lap following a drive-through penalty being handed to the French marque for a slow zone infringement.

Glickenhaus’ delayed sister car, which had a sensor change in the garage during the previous hour, is now within shouting distance, Richard Westbrook up to P5 and just 37 seconds off the A480.

In LMP2, the No. 38 JOTA continues to lead the way. Will Stevens has continued the form of Antonio Felix da Costa from the opening hours, and holds a 36s advantage over Dane Cameron in the Penske ORECA. Penske’s run, in what is its final WEC race of the season before it returns with a top class program next year, has been impressive so far.

Team Penske’s ORECA started ninth in class, and is now second after clean, fast stints from Felipe Nasr and Cameron. As the hour came to a close, though, a battle for second was brewing, as Lorenzo Colombo in the PREMA car was closing in and within a second.

Cool Racing also had a strong hour, with Yifei Ye steering the No. 37 to P4. Panis Racing’s No. 65 completes the top five, after the No. 28 JOTA began to fall away, with Ed Jones not quite quick enough to keep the British-run entry in the top five. He is however, still ahead of the first of Team WRT’s entries, as the No. 32 of Dries Vanthoor — which did climb as high as fourth two hours ago — is now seventh.

GTE Pro has undergone a reset as the race heads into Hour 4. Corvette’s 1-2 at the head of the field has been re-instated, after Tommy Milner steered the No. 64 C8.R past the No. 91 Porsche of Gianmaria Bruni early in the hour.

Later on, the two Porsches then swapped places, with the No. 92 getting back ahead of the No. 91 down the Mulsanne Straight. Michael Christensen, now just five seconds off Milner, with Richard Lietz in the No. 91 down to fourth and 11 seconds behind.

AF Corse’s quiet run continues, its two 488 GTEs are, at this stage at least, no match for the cars ahead, and sit fifth and sixth.

In GTE Am. WeatherTech Racing appears to have taken control, as its No. 79 Porsche is comfortably ahead of the second place No. 77 Dempsey Proton Porsche, and even ahead of the last of the Pro runners, the Riley Ferrari.

Heading into Hour 4, it will be interesting to see if Thomas Merrill can hold off Le Mans debutant Sebastian Priaulx, who despite his lack of experience, is mighty quick.

Up to third and making real progress is the Northwest AMR Vantage. David Pittard has climbed in for Nicki Thiim, and has continued to rise up the field. The team now sits third and lead the No. 33 TF Sport example, which has had a quiet race thus far but has now given Aston Martin renewed hope of a strong result, with Vantage AMRs now sitting third and fourth.

Further down the order, the first Ferrari is the No. 57 Kessel 488 down in fifth, although just before the end of the hour Frederik Schandorff had a scary moment at Tetre Rouge, going off track and narrowly avoiding the armco.

The class pole-sitting No. 61 AF Corse Ferrari has fallen further down the order after a penalty was handed to the team for speeding in pit lane. It is now down to eighth.

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