A fascinating race at Le Mans continued through the night, as teams and drivers turned their focus to making the chequered flag. With six hours left, the #18 Porsche 919 Hybrid driven by Nick Tandy continues to lead from the #9 René Rast, but drama has hit the Porsche’s main challenger – the #7 Audi of Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer.
In LMP1, the Audis initially struggled in the early hours from the cooler temperatures and the Porsches were able to maintain their advantage, particularly Earl Bamber in the leading #19 car. The possibility of rain was preoccupying team managers, but the cold front travelling north from the Bay of Biscay appears to be paying Le Mans a wide berth.
Hot in pursuit of the leading Porsche, the #7 car suffered a major setback at daybreak, losing its right-rear bodywork just before the Ford Chicane. Fässler was forced to pit for a replacement, losing seven minutes in the process and effectively ending the reigning Le Mans champion trio’s chances of a fourth overall victory.
As tiredness began to set in throughout the field, the race was marred by a number of small incidents involving a lack of concentration – including a trip into the tyre barriers at Arnage for the #12 Rebellion R-One. The leading Porsche driven by Nico Hülkenberg was also involved in a serious incident, although the prototype escaped unscathed. Roald Goethe in the #96 Aston Martin wasn’t so lucky, careering into the concrete wall at Corvette Corner after being touched by Hülkenberg’s Porsche. The safety car was summoned immediately and Goethe was extracted by the medical team. It was a huge impact for the GTE-Am car, evoking memories of Allan Simonsen’s shunt here two years ago. However, Aston Martin confirmed that Goethe was conscious and responsive when taken from the car. The German driver has been taken to the circuit medical centre for observation.
On the restart, the #18 Porsche of Mark Webber leaped ahead of the #9 Audi to take second place on the road. Fässler remains in fourth, almost two laps down on the leader, after his car’s issues.
It’s the same old story in LMP2, with the #47 KCMG Oreca 05 still holding a commanding lead over the rest of the field. It’s a fight between G-Drive Racing, Jota Sport and Murphy Prototypes over the remaining podium places, with none of the teams seemingly able to eat in to KCMG’s lead. The TDS by Thiriet Racing Oreca 05 was forced to retire due to damage suffered in an altercation with the #99 Aston Martin V8 Vantage.
The #99 car also suffered some issues of its own, losing bags of time in the pits due to problems with the rear axle. The long-time race leaders of Fernando Rees, Richie Stanaway and Alex MacDowall rejoined in last position in GTE-Pro, 17 laps down on the class leaders. Somewhat surprisingly the #51 AF Corse Ferrari of Vilander/Fisichella/Bruni has risen to the head of the GTE-Pro field, with the Corvette Racing machine losing time in the garage replacing its brakes. The #51 machine holds just a 9-second lead from the #64 Corvette with six hours left.
GTE-Am has seen the least variation in position over the course of the race, although the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche has moved into third position after a stellar overnight stint by Patrick Long. Problems for the #83 AF Corse Ferrari also benefitted the Dempsey car, which lies in third position with six hours remaining. The #98 Aston Martin continues to lead the class, with the #72 SMP Racing car in second position.
Images: 24h LeMans Livestream / Audi Sport (Twitter)