With half of the race complete, Jacques Villeneuve leads the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The No. 7 Team Peugeot Total 908 HDi-FAP now holds a one-lap advantage over the second-placed No. 2 Audi Sport Team Joest R10 TDI of Dindo Capello, who hasn't been able to match the Peugeot's pace on a consistent basis. With Villeneuve and co-drivers Nicolas Minassian and Marc Gene have combined to complete 197 laps, inching towards the race lap record if the second half runs as fast as the first.
It has been a relatively trouble-free race for the front-running diesel machines so far, aside from the No. 8 Peugeot of Pedro Lamy, Stephane Sarrazin and Alexander Wurz, which has been struck with a myriad of problems, despite often being the fastest car on track. A 3:19.394 lap time set by Lamy late in the evening has been the race's fastest lap so far, but the car runs in seventh overall, nine laps adrift from the leading Peugeot.
"This year's Le Mans 24 Hours has lived every bit up to its reputation so far and has shown that anything can happen," said Peugeot Team Director Michel Barge."It's been a very close fight with our main rivals, but we haven't been spared a variety of small but time-consuming problems, ranging from mechanical trouble, a drive-through penalty and a visit to the sand traps. We started the race at an extremely fast pace, but we didn't have any choice."
The No. 9 Peugeot of Franck Montagny, Christian Klien and Ricardo Zonta enjoys a solid run in third, but like sister No. 8 car, it hasn't been a trouble-free run. Klien spun the diesel coupe into the gravel in hour nine, losing the lead. The car also had a lengthy stop to change the front nose because of malfunctioning headlights. The No. 3 Audi of Lucas Luhr, Alexandre Premat and Mike Rockenfeller is in fourth, which suffered a spin in the hands of Luhr in the nighttime hours. The No. 1 Audi of defending race champions Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner rounds out the top-five overall.
The No. 17 Pescarolo Sport Judd of Harold Primat, Christophe Tinseau and Benoit Treluyer is now the best gasoline-powered LM P1 in sixth, a remarkable effort considering the tough competition the Henri Pescarolo-led effort is up against. However, some of the gasoline favorites have dropped off the radar, including the No. 6 Team Oreca Matmut Courage-Oreca LC70 Judd, which suffered a heavy crash in the hands of Marcel Fassler. This brought out the one and only safety car period of the race so far.
The LM P2 division has been an all-Porsche affair, with the Van Merksteijn Motorsport and Team Essex efforts sharing the top spot since the start of the race. The Dutch squad of Jos Verstappen, Jereon Bleekamolen and Peter van Merksteijn now hold a one-lap lead, due to a puncture by the John Nielsen, Casper Elgaard and Sascha Maassen Team Esssex effort. Other than that, both of the Porsche RS Spyder have run near-faultless runs.
Another notable effort has come from the No. 35 Saulnier Racing Pescarolo Judd, which is in third in class, ahead of the Quifel ASM Team Lola B05/40 AER in fourth. P2 has once again faced its fare share of attrition, with the Speedy Racing Team Sebah Lola B08/80 Judd dropping down the leaderboard, as well as the No. 44 Kruse-Shiller Motorsport Lola B05/40 Mazda, which stopped on course with apparent engine problems.
One of the highlights of this year's race so far has been the thrilling battle in LM GT1 between the factory Corvettes and Aston Martins. Twelve hours in, it's still too close to call, with the lead swapping hands with pit stops. As it stands right now, the No. 009 Aston Martin Racing DBR9 of David Brabham, Antonio Garcia and Darren Turner hold 30 second lead over the No. 63 Corvette Racing C6.R of Johnny O'Connell, Jan Magnussen and Ron Fellows. The No. 007 Prodrive machine of Heinz-Harold Frentzen, Andrea Piccini and Karl Wendlinger are one lap further back in third.
"I honestly can't remember anything like it," Brabham said. "Having said that, I knew it would be like this before coming here. From a sporting point of view it's a fantastic competition, but it really means that we have to keep on pushing, all the time. Every lap feels like a qualifying lap. If it carries on like this, we'll still be fighting for the lead on the final lap."
Only one of the four factory GT1s have struck trouble, as the No. 64 Corvette of Olivier Beretta, Oliver Gavin and Max Papis had a long pit stop in the late evening to repair a faulty alternator. It has now moved to two laps within the leaders, and still in shot for the win if the others run into trouble.
In LM GT2, the No. 82 Risi Competizione Ferrari F430 GT of Mika Salo, Jamie Melo and Gianmaria Bruni have enjoyed a dominant run up front, now holding a two-lap margin over their competition, which are all prancing horses. The No. 96 Virgo Motorsport example has battled power steering woes to run in second, ahead of the BMS Scuderia Italia entry and JMB Racing machine in a fine fourth. Farnbacher Racing's prancing horse rounds out the top-five.
The story in the category has been the demise of the three strong factory-supported Porsche efforts. Ironically, two of which, Flying Lizard Motorsports and IMSA Performance Matmut, took each other out in a collision in early on. The American team repaired its car, but now runs over 30 laps back. The third Porsche entrant, Team Felbermayr-Proton, has encountered clutch issues, dropping them out of the top-six.
Twelve retirements have been posted so far, including notables Krohn Racing (early race accident), Trading Performance (accident), AF Corse (driveshaft), RML (nighttime accident) and Team Cytosport (engine).
With 12 hours down, there are still another 12 to go, but the race could be turned upside down in a few hours as rain is on the way. A 90 percent chance of showers is expected to move in as early as 5:00 a.m. local time.