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Bentleys, Audis hold station into the final two hours

Pit stops, driver changes and another safety car period were the highlights of the penultimate two-hour period of the Le Mans 24 hours. The Bentleys and Audis held station at the front of the field as behind them battles for positions in both the ...

Bentleys, Audis hold station into the final two hours

Pit stops, driver changes and another safety car period were the highlights of the penultimate two-hour period of the Le Mans 24 hours. The Bentleys and Audis held station at the front of the field as behind them battles for positions in both the same and other classes attracted the attention, as did a brief pit fire for Jean-Christophe Boullion's Pescarolo Courage-Peugeot.

The Courage-Peugeot of Soheil Ayari slowed suddenly at midday, with fluids pouring out of the back of the car. The driver was able to restart the engine and toured round slowly to his garage. The mechanics worked on the car for 22 minutes and then Minassian took over behind the wheel and the rejoined in ninth place.

Kristensen, meanwhile, handed over the cockpit of the lead Bentley to his team-mate Capello and Blundell made way for Herbert in the second-placed car.

The Veloqx Prodrive Ferrari 550 Maranello of Tomas Enge, leading the GTS class, had a slight scare during its pit stop. There was a problem with the right front tyre and it took several seconds to fit to the car. Fortunately the problem was resolved and the car rejoined the track still in the GTS lead and in tenth place overall.

The XL Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello of Gael Lesoudier pulled off the circuit just after the Chicane Playstation and the rear of the car burst into flames. Marshals quickly covered the car with foam and extinguished the fire, sending a thick white cloud across the track and causing the inevitable appearance of the Safety Cars.

The Team Goh Audi R8 pitted straight away for a driver change, fuel and new tyres. Werner made way for Ara and the mechanics took the opportunity to take rear cover of the car briefly and inspect the engine. The Courage-Peugeot mechanics of Frank Lagorce also took some bodywork off the car to carry out a quick inspection. The Champion Racing Audi R8 of Johansson made a fuel stop and then waited in his pit area for the pit lane exit to reopen. A lap later the leading Bentley of Capello also pitted for fuel and rejoined at the tail of the queue behind the nearest Safety Car.

After a long caution period the three Safety Cars eventually peeled off. The Courage-Judd of Stephan Gregoire was running in fifth place just 2.6 seconds ahead of Max Papis's Panoz. Approaching the finish line Papis closed the gap to 0.4 seconds and successfully went round the outside of Gregoire at Virage du Tertre Rouge.

The battle for second place in the GTS class was extremely close as the Corvette Racing Chevrolet of Ron Fellows was in second place just 0.7 seconds behind Kelly Collins in the sister car. After two laps of immense pressure Fellows moved past Collins in the final sector of the lap. Two laps later though Collins fought back and repassed Fellows. Both drivers then pitted on consecutive laps for fuel, tyres and driver changes with Johnny O'Connell, replacing Fellows, rejoining slightly ahead of Andy Pilgrim.

Herbert in the second-place Bentley made a fuel stop on lap 335. The GTS class leading Veloqx Prodrive Ferrari of Enge made a fuel and tyre stop on it's 308th lap. Max Papis pitted in the Panoz for fuel only on his 323rd lap and returned in fifth place nine laps behind Ara's Audi in fourth. Fuel leaked over Boullion's Pescarolo Courage-Peugeot during a pit stop which ignited and caused a brief fire which was quickly extinguished allowing Boullion to continue. The leading Bentley pitted on lap 345 for a fuel, tyre and driver stop, and Guy Smith took over behind the wheel.

The Scorp Motorsport Communications Chrysler Viper of Luis Marques, Rene Metge and Christian Lavieille and the Gerard Welter WR Peugeot were both officially declared as retired.

With two hours to go, Guy Smith led for Bentley with team-mate Herbert in second place. Stefan Johansson was third for Champion Racing Audi with Seiji Ara fourth for Team Goh Audi.

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