After 9 hours: Aston Martin leads a tight GT1 battle
As midnight came and went, the battle for the GT1 lead intensified -- although the 009 Aston Martin DBR9 has still managed to slightly increase its advantage at the head of the category.
With the fight so close, just one pit stop is enough to make the difference -- so the cars are having to balance performance with fuel consumption: a traditional key to success at Le Mans.
Despite the fact that the race is now nine hours old and has been run at a rapid pace, the rate of attrition so far has been remarkably low. All the DBR9s have displayed perfect reliability as the race approaches its halfway point -- and the battle for the win looks set to go all the way to the end. Last year, the 009 car spent the least time of any competitor in the pits: a crucial factor in its class victory.
Antonio Garcia handed 009 over to Darren Turner just before midnight, having put in a series of quick laps to edge out a little bit more of a cushion in the category lead. Nonetheless, he reported that the track was quite tricky -- with a number of cars stranded as the result of trips into the gravel and the marker cones missing at Mulsanne corner.
Turner said: "My biggest aim is just to keep it neat and tidy. It's good now that the race is properly underway: everyone's had the chance to settle in a bit and you can just concentrate on doing a good solid job."
With the battle at the front so tight, there can be no room for mistakes. The 007 car was delivered to Heinz-Harald Frentzen by Andrea Piccini after a flawless run to maintain third place. This is Frentzen's first competitive run in darkness with the DBR9, but he has good memories of night driving from his only previous run at Le Mans in 1992. "I managed to be quite competitive in the night at Le Mans last time and I really enjoyed it," said the German. "Hopefully the same will be the case this time, 16 years later!" In fact, Frentzen was at one point quickest during the night during his 1992 outing -- underlining his confidence even in marginal conditions.
The new LMP1 Aston Martin-powered prototype has continued to perform strongly, and is now climbing its way back up the leaderboard with Tomas Enge at the wheel. "We just have to do what we can," said the Czech driver. "This year there is no pressure for me or any of us, because the car is so new that nobody is expecting so much. We just have to get out there and show what we can do."
The two customer DBR9s, run by Team Modena and Vitaphone Racing, have had mixed fortunes so far. The Vitaphone car was reported stopped out on the circuit, but the Modena car is recovering well from an earlier puncture and is currently sixth in class with Christian Fittipaldi at the wheel.
Some weather reports are predicting the possibility of rain -- which could add yet another intriguing dimension to what is already a fascinating Le Mans 24 Hours. A safety car deployed just after midnight as the result of an accident at Mulsanne corner is also set to shake up the order.