Le Mans (Motorsport.com) -- As the morning dawned over the famed Le Mans circuit, the field in the 24 hours' race had been reduced to 27 cars from the original 48, with numerous reliability failures throughout the night.
The factory Joest Audi team, though, not only showed continued speed, but upheld its reputation for extreme reliability, with the two cars leading the race like clockwork. Only the #2 car (Aiello-Capello-Pescatori) lost any time to mechanical issues, as the team decided to replace the entire rear end as a precautionary measure after Aiello reported some shifting problems.
With the #1 Audi R8 having pitted only for fuel, tires and driver changes, plus a rapid switch to higher downforce bodywork before midnight, it saw the dawn a comfortable three laps ahead of its sister car (piloted by Biela, Kristensen and Pirro), 183 laps to 180.
The remaining Bentley Speed 8 has continued to run strongly, avoiding the electrical problems that waylaid the #7 Bentley. The team had to replace the pneumatic gearshift system, but was able to perform the feat in less than ten minutes, losing only two laps in the process.
"The gearchange is working properly now, and the car is running as it should," said Andy Wallace. "The only annoyance is that we still haven't got contact with the pit which means I can't advice the crew what tires to have ready."
At 172 laps completed, he Bentley is eleven laps adrift of the leading Audi, but is, in turn, five laps ahead of the next contenders.
The #6 Cadillac (Taylor-Angelelli-Tinseau) and the #16 Chrysler (Beretta-Wendlinger-Lamy) -- with the #14 Chrysler, which had been running in fifth place having spent a lot of time in the pits -- LMP900 entries battling it out with Reynard's LMP675 (Deletraz-Fabre-Geneguerrero) and the very strong Corvette LMGTS entry of Fellows, O'Connell and Pruett.
With ten hours left to run in this year's race, much can happen yet, but clearly the night has shaken out the pretenders. This is, after all, the one race where the old adage applies more than ever: "To finish first, you must first finish."