Marc Gene continues to drive in the lead as midnight approaches at the Le Mans 24 Hours. Peugeot has held the lead for all but a few minutes of the race so far, and the #9 908 HDi FAP (driven by Gene, David Brabham and Alexander Wurz) has led since just before nine o'clock when the #8 Peugeot experienced rear-left brake problems, being delayed in the pits by some ten minutes.
The #9 has run trouble-free in the three hours since, and the only fight has been for the second position, between Sebastien Bourdais and then Franck Montagny in the #8, and Tom Kristensen in the remaining Audi R15 TDI.
Kristensen lost some time in the pits with the car being wheeled into the garage for a quick inspection, and Montagny took advantage of the opportunity, slipping by into second place. That only lasted for about 30 minutes, though, as on his next stop Montagny had to get the front bodywork on the Peugeot replaced, and the mechanics had some difficulty getting the relatively flimsy piece mounted correctly.
Kristensen nodded his thanks and sped by the stationary Peugeot, taking back second by a margin of about two minutes. Montagny is currently tearing up the track, though, setting stonking lap times in an effort to catch Kristensen.
Jean-Christophe Bouillon is still fourth in the #17 Pescarolo Peugeot, with Jan Charouz next in the #007 Lola-Aston Martin.
The duo of Charles Zwolsman and Andre Lotterer continues to impress, though, as they have the #14 Kolles Audi R10 in sixth place. Neither Zwolsman or Lotterer has raced at Le Mans before this weekend -- and with Narain Karthikeyan's pre-start injury, they are having to drive the entire race without a third teammate.
In the LM P2 category, Emmanuel Collard, driving the Team Essex Porsche RS Spyder, has now pulled out a lead of more than a lap over the NAVI Team Goh RS Spyder, after the latter experienced some mechanical delays in the pits. The Speedy Racing Team Sebah Lola-Judd is another four laps adrift of the second Porsche.
The LM GT1 class is now down to three runners, with the retirements of the JLOC Lamborghini Murcielago and the Luc Alphand #72 Corvette. The two works Corvettes -- #63 and #64, respectively -- lead the remaining Luc Alphand Corvette, the #73, by a two-lap margin.
Jaime Melo has taken over from Mika Salo in the #82 Risi Competizione Ferrari F430, but that has not stopped the team from dominating the LM GT2 standings. Currently Melo has a three-minute lead over JMW Motorsports' Ferrari F430 (currently driven by Robert Bell), while Patrick Pilet has the IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche 911 RSR in third position in class, a lap behind the second Ferrari.
Elsewhere, the race stewards have made the extraordinary decision to exclude Aston Martin Racing's Stuart Hall from further participation in the race. Hall contacted the #26 Bruichladdich Radical SR9 AER early on (<A HREF="article.asp?ID=332216">see separate article</A>), forcing the Radical to the garage with extensive damage.
"After my contact with the Radical, the stewards have decided to exclude me from the meeting so I won't be driving today or tomorrow," Hall said. "I made a mistake, and it a slight touch was enough to do a lot of damage to them. I am really sorry to those guys."
"I'm actually gutted," he added. "We weren't running too badly until then. Everyone I've spoken too said it's a bit harsh, but that's how it goes. The decision is final, you can't do anything to change that ruling, immediate exclusion from the meeting. It's down to Koxie (Peter Kox) and Harald (Primat) to bring the car home to the finish."