Porsche and Audi continue their fight for supremacy as Le Mans passes the one-quarter mark.
At one quarter distance in the 83rd running of the Le Mans 24 Hours, a fascinating cat-and-mouse battle between Porsche and Audi continued to play out.
Porsche emerged on top after the long safety car period to repair the Armco damaged after Loic Duval’s accident at Indianapolis just before the race entered the fourth hour.
Brendon Hartley, driving the No.17 Porsche 919 Hybrid, drove a flawless series of stints to lead throughout the hours four-to-six period but had to fight off the advances of a flying Felipe Albuquerque in the No.9 Audi R18 e-tron quattro.
Fastest race lap in LM24 history
The Portuguese, who is celebrating his 30th birthday today, charged up to within a few seconds of Hartley, setting the current fastest lap of 3m17.647s. Despite falling slightly behind, Albuquerque was soon able to lead for a handful of laps as Hartley pitted to hand over to Mark Webber after 5hrs 30mins.
When Albuquerque also pitted, remaining in the cockpit for a quadruple stint, Webber regained the lead over the No.7 Audi of Benoit Treluyer, who was clawing back the lost time from the puncture which prematurely ended Lotterer’s planned quadruple stint earlier on.
As six hours were completed, Treluyer was just 1.5s behind the ex-Red Bull F1 driver.
The No.18 and No.19 Porsches fell away from the lead battles, with the latter missing out in the safety car deployment when it pitted to change driver. Both though remained on the lead lap in fourth and fifth positions.
No.8 Audi recovering from crash
The recovering No.8 Audi – which crashed controversially just before the fourth hour – made an excellent recover with Lucas Di Grassi putting in some scintillating laps to get back on the lead lap. His efforts saw him dice with Hartley briefly as he pushed to regain the lost time.
The No.2 Toyota continued to circulate in a lonely seventh place, with Stephane Sarrazin setting some improved times. The No.1 Toyota TS 040 HYBRID was significantly delayed after a lengthy stop to initially change the front bodywork after Anthony Davidson came in to contact with the LMGTE Am-leading No.72 SMP Racing Ferrari at the Porsche Curves in the fifth hour.
All three of the Nissan GTR-R LM NISMO entries continued to circulate with the No.22 the least delayed. The No.21 and No.23 cars were in 41st and 47th places respectively after brake and clutch issues among other ailments.
KCMG increases LMP2 lead
In LMP2 the KCMG ORECA 05-Nissan continued to lead and had opened up a gap of 1m45s over the similar Thiriet by TDS car which was driven for most of the 3-6 hours by ‘Ludo’ Badey. When he handed over to fellow Frenchman – Pierre Thiriet, the car was in a net second place after the retirement of the Greaves Motorsport Gibson-Nissan with a suspected dead battery, the first time in eight seasons that this car had suffered such a failure.
Greaves’ misfortune initially promoted the Murphy Prototypes ORECA-Nissan to third but with bronze categorised driver Mark Patterson at the wheel, the Signatech Alpine capitalised and ran third in the hands of Nelson Panciatici until they too made a planned stop just before the end of the sixth hour.
The No.26 G-Drive Ligier-Nissan that had battled for the lead in the early exchanges came back in to contention when Sam Bird jumped back in to the cockpit. The former GP2 race winner enhanced the pace of the Silverstone WEC winning car but was still just off the class lead lap in sixth position.
Corvette shine but Astons lead in LMGTE Pro
Tommy Milner was the star of the 3-6 Hour period at Le Mans as he fought his way to the front of the field in another close and exciting period of LMGTE Pro action.
The American initially pulled away from the Aston-Martin attack led by Darren Turner. This pair had initially duelled until Turner spun at the first Mulsanne Chicane in the fourth hour. The British Aston stalwart eventually settled in to third position behind Fernando Rees in the No.99 car.
Rees completed a succession of impressive stints and was just a few seconds away from the Corvette, which lost the lead in the sixth hour when Milner vacated the cockpit for Jordan Taylor.
As the six-hour mark approached, Aston enjoyed a 1-2 with the No.99 V8 Vantage 23-seconds ahead of the No.97 ‘art car’ with Turner still aboard.
Taylor’s Corvette was third, and homing in on Turner’s Aston, while the sole remaining Manthey Porsche was fourth with Jorg Bergmeister at the wheel.
The LMGTE Am has swung back in to the lap of the No.98 Aston-Martin. The runaway WEC points standing leaders with Mathias Lauda driving, led the SMP Racing Ferrari 458 Italia and the Riley SRT Viper.