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Safety cars back out before high noon

A routine series of pit stops was suddenly broken up by a safety car period which allowed the field to close up and created a dramatic on-track battle between the fifth placed Courage-Judd of Jonathan Cochet and the Panoz of Olivier Beretta. Also, ...

Safety cars back out before high noon

A routine series of pit stops was suddenly broken up by a safety car period which allowed the field to close up and created a dramatic on-track battle between the fifth placed Courage-Judd of Jonathan Cochet and the Panoz of Olivier Beretta. Also, in the couple of hours before midday, David Saelens had in accident in his Panoz and the Bentleys completed a planned round of pit stops.

David Saelens has a spectacular crash shortly after 10am on his 234th lap. He lost grip through Virage de Mulsanne in his JML Team Panoz and went head-on into the tyre barriers at speed, causing significant damage to the left-front of the car and putting it into retirement. The driver was able to get out of the car unaided and was uninjured.

The leader Kristensen pitted on lap 291 for a fuel stop only. The Bentley team decided not to change the tyres despite the increased track temperature. Kristensen stayed in the car for yet another stint and he rejoined just in front of the sister Bentley but two laps ahead. Blundell, in the second-placed car, made it clear to Kristensen that he wanted to unlap himself. In a decisive moment at Virage de Mulsanne he made his move and gave Kristensen no choice but to let him past and then he quickly pulled away.

LM GT class leader Sascha Maassen pulled his Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT3-RS into his garage with an electrical problem. The mechanics gave the car a thorough check for 8 minutes before allowing the car back out on the circuit to resume the GT class lead.

The #8 Bentley of Blundell pitted on lap 295 for fuel only. The mechanics opened the side door of the car but the driver remained in the car and then narrowly missed the Dome Judd of Tristan Gommendy who nearly pulled out of his pit in front of Blundell.

The Team Goh Audi R8 stopped on lap 292 for fuel, tyres and a new driver. Seiji Ara pulled away from the pit without a problem and the car resumed in fourth place. The Champion Racing Audi R8 stopped straight afterwards for fuel and a tyre inspection. Lehto initially had trouble starting the car but, as the driver started to shake his head, the car pulled away.

The eleventh-placed Dome Judd car of Tristan Gommendy turned into its garage on its 282nd lap and was descended upon by a group of mechanics for a few minutes. The lead Bentley pitted for fuel on lap 304 and Kristensen opted to stay on the original set of tyres.

The battle for fifth place was the closest it had been during recent hours. Jonathan Cochet was running in fifth place for Courage Competition Judd just 30 seconds ahead of Olivier Beretta’s Panoz. Soheil Ayari’s Pescarolo Courage Peugeot was 50 seconds further back.

The Dome Judd of Beppe Gabbiani went through a gravel trap on its 263rd lap. The car came out the other side but with a strip of rubber hanging from the left-front tyre. This strip started flapping around and tearing bodywork away from the left-front of the car causing a lot of damage and leaving carbon fibre debris on the track.

Inevitably the three Safety Cars were deployed to allow the debris to be cleared up. This prompted a flurry of activity in the pit lane. The Panoz of Olivier Beretta was the first car to pit, followed by the Bentley of Mark Blundell, the Ferrari 550 Maranello of Peter Kox and numerous other cars. Gabbiani eventually arrived at his pit and the tyre and front section of bodywork were replaced. The Safety Cars were only out for one lap and returned to their deployment points around the circuit as the lead Bentley roared past the queue of cars detained in the pit lane.

The greatest beneficiary of the Safety Cars was Beretta in his Panoz who closed right up behind the Courage Judd of Cochet, creating a dramatic on-track battle for position. Cochet defended the inside like as Beretta went by the outside turning onto Les Hunaudieres. Going along the straight Beretta slowly outdragged Cochet and then violently weaved across the front of the Judd before pulling away.

At midday Kristensen was leading by two laps from Blundell in the sister Bentley. Johansson had just taken over from Lehto in the Champion Racing Audi R8 with Werner’s Team Goh three laps further behind in fourth.

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