By: Tony DiZinno, Sports Car Correspondent
- Race settles into rhythm and pace
- GTE Am closest among top six cars
No. 7 Peugeot, No. 2 Audi exchange top spot
Following the fracas and the hour-plus safety car period after Allan McNish’s savage accident, the 79th 24 Hours of Le Mans has settled into a more comfortable and rhythmic pace as the race transitions from day to evening. More than a quarter of the race is complete as the race has passed the six-hour mark.
Depending on pit stops, the overall lead has changed hands between the No. 2 Audi and No. 7 Peugeot. Andre Lotterer has just made his first appearance in the polesitting Audi this evening as Benoit Treluyer opened with a quadruple stint and Marcel Fassler was second in the queue. All three drivers have been in the No. 7 Peugeot – Marc Gene has now taken over from Anthony Davidson and Alex Wurz, respectively.
The Peugeot appears to be achieving better fuel mileage, running anywhere from one to two laps more (an additional 8.4-17 miles) per stint over the Audi. This may play into Peugeot’s hands going forward, and another element which could help is their drivers’ comfort level with visibility in their coupes. With Audi about to head into the night without having been in racing conditions in their new R18 TDI Coupe, visibility is a wild card for the German manufacturer.
McNish’s departure from the race has left five of the six factory Audis and Peugeots in the top five positions, ahead of Oreca’s previous generation semi-works Peugeot and then the “petrol division” group of prototypes. Past the six-hour mark, the Rebellion Racing Lola B10/60 Coupe Toyota leads the Pescarolo Team Pescarolo Judd in the unofficial subcategory.
Quadruple stinting the tires is difficult in these conditions.
Davidson opined on the car’s performance and how the night may unfold from this point in the race.
“Physically it’s a lot easier but mentally is tough as the track is not in great condition,” Davidson said. “Quadruple stinting the tires is difficult in these conditions. We haven’t been great on our car setup, as we have a lot of understeer through Porsche Curves. That was my biggest problem, and there were two laps where it was quite clear. A lot of cars are out there still, which will make things difficult going into the night.”
Four ones that aren’t still circulating and have officially retired are the McNish/No. 3 Audi, the No. 20 Quifel-ASM Zytek and the pair of Aston Martin AMR-Ones. A challenging effort for the new program for 2011, Prodrive boss David Richards (who runs Aston Martin Racing) discussed how the team can move forward from what was a frustrating week in France. All are LM P1 class cars; no P2, GTE Pro or GTE Am cars have yet thrown in the towel.
“We have an equivalency issue, where the performance for the diesels is too great compared to petrols,” Richards said. “In arguing that case, you have to realize they’re not running an optimal petrol car. Of course people will lambast our efforts, but George Howard-Chappell has come up with an innovative package. The engine has its failures because it is tiny. But we’re not looking to do things ordinarily, and we want to take things to the limit.”
But we’re not looking to do things ordinarily, and we want to take things to the limit.
Oreca Matmut’s Oreca 03 Nissan has led LM P2 for most of the race, and right now David Hallyday has taken the wheel. Hallyday returns to Le Mans for the first time in four years, and no doubt will capture the attention of the fans still at the circuit as the son of the notable French singer Johnny. HPD-powered entries from Strakka and Level 5 have steadily improved to second and third in class; while Strakka is an HPD chassis, Level 5 has the class’s lone coupe with a Lola chassis.
Corvette, BMW Engage In GTE Battle
In GTE Pro, Corvette’s No. 74 entry still remains the lead dog, but with others barking and looking to hunt it down. BMW’s No. 56 remains the top challenger although its sister car fell off pace. The No. 55 car’s right rear tire went down at about the four-hour mark; the car visited the garage and returned but out of the hunt. The Corvette No. 73 also had an unscheduled stop within the last hour and nearly collided with the No. 35 Oak Pescarolo Judd BMW, but avoided contact.
Beyond the leading GTE Pro cars from Corvette and BMW, the No. 75 Prospeed Porsche, Nos. 51 and 59 Ferrari F458s from AF Corse and Luxury Racing, and No. 80 Flying Lizard Porsche are playing into the role. The AF Corse Ferrari fell down the order after Toni Vilander ran off course at Mulsanne Corner, a shame as the team was near the top of the leaderboard.
Robertson Racing’s Doran Ford GT-R’s paddle-shift system failed and the team has had to revert back to its sequential shifter, which fortuitously was still installed on the car. Michael Waltrip had an off-and-on in the second AF Corse F458 and the Hankook Team Farnbacher Ferrari F458 was yet another to suffer a puncture and limp back to the pits.
When asked whether the GTE Am cars, the slowest of the four classes, have played a negative impact on the prototypes overtaking, David Robertson said that was rather fictitious.
“We’re slower because it takes more time to do things but others will drop out,” he said. “I think they’re doing a good job — sometimes the GT cars have to act on what’s in front of them, but I think we’re dealing with it well.”
GTE Am seems to change depending on the pit stop sequence. The Gulf AMR Middle East Aston Martin Vantage has done a decent job up front for a solid portion of the race, but has been engaged with Flying Lizard’s Porsche, Krohn Racing and AF Corse’s Ferrari F430s, and Larbre Competition’s Porsche and Corvettes.
The Gulf AMR Middle East car had a brief spin with Michael Wainwright at the controls. “I think I made too many mistakes,” he said. “I really enjoyed it and my times were not bad until the tyres were starting to go off but I’m still struggling with a few areas of the track, especially Tertre Rouge where I had a spin. I lost us too much time because of those mistakes.”
After six and a half hours, the top six in class were separated by only a little over one minute, a smallish gap given the length of the circuit and the ruminations these cars would have been more spread out.