Stephen Errity, Le Mans correspondent
Audi leads, but suffers small problems
There was a glimmer of hope for Toyota supporters as Audi suffered an unusually troubled start to the 24 Hours. Although the leading #1 R18 e-tron quattro continues to dominate, with Benoit Treluyer at the wheel, a very fast lapping Sebastien Buemi is around 10 seconds behind in second, while Nicolas Lapierre is third in the other Toyota thanks to a series of minor issues for the other works Audis. Romain Dumas in the highest-paced R18 TDI ultra is fourth, after that car had an unscheduled pitstop for an early puncture. The Sebring-winning crew of Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Dindo Capello saw their R18 e-tron quattro have an unplanned trip to the garage when Kristensen complained of an odd feeling at the rear of the car. This turned out to be a large piece of rubber pickup that had become lodged in the suspension and was causing a vibration. Although the Toyotas are not quite matching the Audi's fuel economy right now, it's often stated that winning Le Mans is all about minimizing time spent in the pits – and that's exactly what they're doing right now.
Mixed fortunes for P1 privateer teams
It's been plain sailing so far for the #12 and #13 Rebellion Racing Lola coupes, which for the moment have a firm grip on first and second place in the unofficial 'privateer petrol class'. The #15 OAK Racing P1 car has circulated reliably but not stunningly quickly and is 10th overall. And after a challenging few days of practice and qualifying, the JRM team are getting to grips with their HPD around La Sarthe and sit one place higher in ninth. “We need to work the tyres a bit harder – we're just waiting for the track to get grippier, so my stint was not exactly spectacular,” said lead driver David Brabham. Strakka Racing, the more fancied HPD team, continues its struggle back up the field after losing six laps early on – pro drivers Danny Watts and Johnny Kane are doing quadruple stints each and gentleman driver Nick Leventis will be doing triples. Elsewhere, poor reliability has blunted the challenge of the #17 Pescarolo Dome S102.5, with starter and alternator problems extending the length of its pitstops, while the team's #16 Pescarolo 03 has completed only 20 laps and looks set to finish well down the field, if it all.
Intense but controlled battle for the win in P2
LM P2 was many pundits' tip as the closest class at Le Mans this year, and so far in the race we've seen a fierce battle on the timing screens, but no big drama on track yet. The polesitting ADR-Delta car hit a pitstop delay early on, so the pair of OAK Racing Morgans have now taken control of the class, with the efforts of highly rated Frenchman Olivier Pla helping the #24 car hold the lead for now. Second-place Maxime Martin in the Nissan-engined #35 car said: “I did a triple stint, it was perfect, we're running at a constant pace to stay in touch at the moment.” Early in the race, the quick young Belgian held Le Mans veteran Warren Hughes at bay for several laps. The driver of the third-place Murphy Prototypes machined reckoned Martin's car was just too quick in a straight line to pass. “We're staying in contention without taking big risks.” he said. Flying the flag for HPD is the American Starworks team, staying in touch with the podium battle in fourth. Late addition to the driver line-up Tom Kimber-Smith praised the car's very low tyre wear.
In the fifth hour, just as this update was posting, the Number three Audi driven by Romain Dumas went wide to pass the slower #79 GT Porsche of Flying Lizard Racing. The Audi understeered into the tire wall and suffered heavy damage to its nose. The Flying Lizard Porsche was also seen off the track with extensive damage from a separate spin further down the road.