Stephen Errity, Le Mans correspondent
As the 2012 Le Mans 24 Hours entered its final four hours, a hybrid Audi victory was all but assured, yet it was still possible that either the #1 or #2 e-tron quattro would take the chequered flag first. Following Fassler's earlier indiscretion in the #1, he and Dindo Capello in the #2 were trading the lead back and forth as they each went through their pitstop cycles. As the clock approached 11am local time, Fassler was due to come in for the car's final driver change to hand over to a no-longer unwell Benoit Treluyer, and Capello was scheduled to do the same to let Allan McNish take the car home. There's no hint of team orders from Audi just yet and both driving crews continue to push hard for the win.
The R18 TDI ultra bested the new hybrid racer at the Spa 6 Hours in May, but there was no sign of the pure diesel model being able to challenge the hybrid around La Sarthe. With four hours to go, the #4 car led its #3 sister in third and fourth place – although there was a brief scare when the #4 slowed dramatically on track with Marco Bonanomi at the wheel. It seems that all that was required was a systems reset, as the young Italian was soon back up to full racing speed and returned to the pits to hand over to Jarvis. The #3 car has spent the majority of the race making back ground lost when Romain Dumas went straight on into the barriers just before the afternoon's huge Toyota crash.
Rebellion Racing's #12 Lola coupe is still holding on to fifth place, but its sister #13 car has now fallen away due to requiring a clutch change. Nicolas Prost in the 12 lamented the inevitability of losing fourth to the recovering #3 Audi. “We pushed as hard as we could, but there's not much we can do about them,” he said after his morning stint. “We had some trouble in the early morning get temperature into the tyres, but it's better now. P5 was our objective at the start so that will be a good result for us.” The #13 car's misfortune has allowed David Brabham, Karun Chandhok and Peter Dumbreck to haul their #22 JRM Racing HPD into a very impressive sixth overall, after coming back from several mechanical setbacks during the race.
Starworks Motorsport are looking good for the LM P2 class win with Enzo Pottolichio, Ryan Dalziel and Tom Kimber-Smith aboard the Venezuela-sponsored HPD that finished on the overall podium at Sebring in March. The rest of the P2 class podium positions are less assured however: TDS Racing and Pecom Racing's Oreca-Nissans are on the same lap, while the #26 Signatech car was also in the mix until it suffered a puncture and Roman Rusinov spun at Indianapolis – it's now an outside bet for third at best.
Elton Julian has got the less-fancied Greaves Motorsport Zytek into fifth in class, ahead of the polesitting ADR-Delta Oreca and onetime class leaders Bas Leinders, Maxime Martin and David Heinemeier Hanssen in the #35 OAK Morgan-Nissan. A series of punctures and a more recent off-track moment have spoiled their challenge, while the much-fancied trio of former Le Mans winner Martin Brundle, his son Alex and GT Academy winner Lucas Ordonez in the other Greaves-run Zytek were placed on the back foot after only a few hours of racing when an alternator belt broke. Since then, they haven't shown the necessary pace to climb back up through the field.