As we’re minutes away from the mid-race point, the #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López is still leading the race in the darkness of night – but it hasn’t been without its hurdles.
12 hours to go | 184 laps complete | 2:38 local time
LMP1 | LEADER: #7 TOYOTA GAZZO RACING / KAMUI KOBAYASHI
Big drama shortly before nightfall for the #3 Rebellion Racing R13. Under braking for the second chicane at Hundaudières, Thomas Laurent lost the rear of the car and crashed nose-first into the guard rail. Fourth-placed Mikhail Aleshin in the #11 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1 didn’t get away unscathed either, picking up a big piece of bodywork from the stricken Rebellion. Despite heavy damaged, Laurent managed to quickly bring the car back into the pits and get back out on track within an astonishing 3 minutes and change. Rebellion’s troubles handed third place to Sergey Sirotkin in the #17 SMP Racing.
Aleshin and Laurent continued in fourth and fifth – with the #3 Rebellion taking a few hours to get back within reach of the two Russian cars. Gustavo Menezes brought Rebellion back in the top 3 in the dead of night as he inherited third place from the #17 SMP when Egor Orudzhev spun into the tyre barriers at the Porsche Curves.
When the race went back to green both Toyotas were running nose-to-tail with Kazuki Nakajima in the #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid taking a short-lived turn of the lead – profiting from a Slow Zone minutes before Laurent crashed – before Jóse María López returned to P1.
As temperatures began to drop due to the setting sun, mistakes started to creep in: In braking for Mulsanne Corner, López shot straight and ran through the gravel, losing enough time for Nakajima to slip through into the lead.
The inter-team battle then went quiet for a while but then picked back up again when Nakajima made way for Sébastien Buemi to take over the car. Coming into the pits a lap later, the #7 Toyota crew seemed adamant to take back the lead. A quick servicing sent Mike Conway speeding out of the pits barely beating out Buemi who had put his foot down on his outlap to stay in front – to no avail. Orudzhev’s crash and following Safety Car, however, has been in Buemi’s favour: The Swiss driver picked up the lead while Conway was being held up in the pits under yellow. Another round of pitstops later and the #7 Toyota is once more in the lead as Kamui Kobayashi leap-frogged the #8 Toyota.
LMP2 | LEADER: #26 G-DRIVE RACING / ROMAN RUSINOV
With daylight dying, G-Drive Racing was back to make life miserable for Signatech Alpine Matmut again. Jean-Éric Vergne had closed the gap to Signatech Alpine’s André Negrão after seven hours of racing and with a late braking manoeuvre into Indianapolis retook the lead for G-Drive Racing.
Job van Uitert – back aboard the G-Drive Aurus at midnight – was lighting up the track with a stellar performance. The Dutchman’s extended his lead – with help from the Safety Car – to a great margin over Signatech Alpine’s Pierre Thiriet.
#38 Jackie Chan DC Racing is in third place with Gabriel Aubry driving.
GTE-PRO | LEADER: #92 PORSCHE GT / LAURENS VANTHOOR
The Safety Car that followed the #3 Rebellion’s accident bunched up the field sufficiently to renew the no-holds-barred fight in GTE-Pro. While Kévin Estre in the #92 Porsche 991 RSR was quick enough to distance himself from second-placed Alessandro Pier Guidi, the Italian racer in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE had to fend off an armada of six GTs, all eyeing second place – and a shot at the lead several seconds ahead.
Although the battle seemed to have died down towards midnight – the top 8 cars remaining within sight of each other – James Calado took control of the #51 Ferrari and charged towards the Michael Christensen-piloted #92 Porsche, grabbing the lead minutes before the race entered Sunday – and giving it back to Christensen the next time by as he veered off into the pits. This process repeated itself an hour later, keeping the #92 Porsche in the lead each time.
Aston Martin’s race went from bad to worse with a spin into the wall at the Porsche Curves by Alex Lynn, retirement of the #98 Aston Martin in the GTE-Am class and a race-ending high-speed crash at Indianapolis by Marco Sørensen.
The midnight Safety Car that followed Sørensen’s accident threw quite a spanner in the works for the GTE contestants. With three Safety Cars around the Circuit de la Sarthe, the #92 Porsche of Christensen and #51 Ferrari of Calado were picked up by another Safety Car than the rest of the frontrunners, giving the eternal opponents an 80-second advantage over the six following cars (#93 Porsche, #63 Corvette, #67 Ford, #69 Ford, #68 Ford and #91 Porsche).
GTE-AM | LEADER: #85 KEATING MOTORSPORTS / FELIPE FRAGA
Keating Motorsports is well in control of the GTE-Am class. The #85 Ford GT is leading by a minute and a half and it not held back by the pursuing JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE, certainly not after Wei Lu got temporarily stranded in the gravel trap at the Esses.
Christian Reid in the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR follows at 2m29s in second place, 19 seconds ahead of the customer-entered #90 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage GTE of Charlie Eastwood.