Darkness has fallen at the Circuit de la Sarthe with rain and extended safety car periods characterizing the opening hours of the Le Mans 24-hour. For the first time in several years, Toyota isn’t running away with the race and Ferrari is looking particularly strong having led most of the opening hours. However as the clock ticked into midnight, the #7 Toyota found itself out of the race whilst the #94 Peugeot with Nico Muller behind the wheel holds the lead ahead of the #8 Toyota.
As the Tricolore waved to get the race underway both Ferraris started well hanging onto first and second through the first corner and getting away quickly. Behind, Felipe Nasr in the #75 Penske Porsche had a big lockup going into the first chicane but ultimately all competitors negotiated the first corner without significant contact. It was a thrilling start as Sebastien Buemi took the lead at the end of the first lap in the #8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid Hypercar, with his teammate Mike Conway following closely behind in the sister Toyota. The Japanese giant was dominating the race with a 1-2 position until just before the hour mark when Buemi reported difficulties with the fly-by-wire throttle and a slight loss of charge.
The excitement was briefly interrupted when the safety car was deployed at the end of the first lap due to a heavy crash involving Jack Aitken and the Action Express Cadillac at the first Mulsanne Chicane. Remarkably, Aitken managed to get the damaged car back to the pits, and the US team began a lengthy repair process.
Meanwhile, Ferrari AF Corse held the third and fourth positions, with #50 driven by Nicklas Nielsen leading #51 piloted by James Calado. Nielsen made an impressive overtake on Conway to secure second place, but shortly after, he made an unexpected pit stop as Ferrari opted for a surprising off-set strategy with a fuel-only stop. Calado took advantage of the situation and overtook Conway to claim second position.
In the LMP2 category, Paul Loup-Chatin converted his pole position into an early lead in the Idec Sport Oreca-Gibson. He was closely pursued by Robert Kubica in the #41 WRT entry, while Reshad de Gerus in the #47 Cool Racing ELMS incoming car held the third position. The competition was fierce, and the drivers pushed hard to maintain their positions.
In the LMGTE AM class, Davide Rigon made a brilliant start, snatching the lead from the pole-sitting #33 Corvette Racing driven by Nicky Catsburg. The #56 Project 1 AO Racing ‘Rexy’ Porsche 911 RSR-19, with Matteo Cairoli behind the wheel, secured the second position, while the #60 Iron Lynx Ferrari, driven by Alessio Picariello, engaged in a close battle for LMGTE Am honors, hot on the heels of the leading cars.
Initially, Ferrari seemed to have an advantage with the Toyotas starting on soft compound tyres. However, a sudden downpour in the fourth hour turned the race into chaos. Peugeot’s Gustavo Menezes seized the opportunity and made a sensational surge in the #94 9X8 car, overtaking multiple competitors to electrify the crowd. Astonishingly, Menezes led the race just before the second Safety Car period, holding off the Hertz Team Jota Porsche 963, which started in the 60th position.
Yifei Ye took over from Antonio Felix da Costa in the gold-liveried Porsche as the race resumed after the four-hour mark. However, Ye dropped down to sixth place after a pit stop, as the reshuffling of positions continued into the fifth hour. The #6 Porsche Penske 963, driven by Kevin Estre, secured second place ahead of the Toyota Gazoo Racing GR010 Hybrid Hypercars driven by Jose-Maria Lopez and Brendon Hartley. The #75 Porsche Penske completed the top five, as teams switched from wet to slick tyres under Safety Car conditions.
In a twist of events, the #93 Peugeot 9X8, driven by Jean-Eric Vergne, spun under the safety car after switching to slick tyres and got stranded in the gravel trap at Mulsanne Corner. The highest-placed Cadillac, the #2 driven by Alex Lynn, held the seventh position, followed by the two Ferrari AF Corse 499Ps. However, the #3 Cadillac, initially in a strong position among the leaders, suffered an incident in the third hour when it was hit by the #21 AF Corse Ferrari driven by Ulysse de Pauw. After repairs, the Cadillac V Series.R driven by Sebastien Bourdais lost over three minutes but set the fastest lap of the race so far.
The race encountered real drama just before the fourth hour when a cloudburst soaked the track at Porsche Curves. Several cars, including Scott Dixon in the #3 Cadillac V Series.R, aquaplaned and made contact with the barriers, requiring repairs. The leading non-Hybrid car, the #709 Glickenhaus Racing car with Esteban Guttierez behind the wheel, also needed repairs after a spin caused by the rain.
In the LMP2 category, the Alpine ELF Team took advantage of the chaotic fourth hour in wet conditions and secured a 1-2 position. Memo Rojas led in the #35 car, followed closely by Julien Canal in the #36 car. United Autosports claimed the third spot with the #22 car driven by Oliver Jarvis ahead of the #30 Duqueine entry.
In LMGTE AM, heavy rain showers shuffled the leaderboard. The #54 AF Corse Ferrari initially emerged as the leader with David Rigon completing an epic triple stint. However, Francesco Castellacci took over from Rigon, handing the lead to the Iron Dames Porsche. Sarah Bovy, replacing Rahel Frey, then assumed the lead during a lengthy second Safety Car period. The #56 Project 1 AO Racing ‘Rexy’ Porsche 911 RSR-19, with PJ Hyett at the wheel, secured second place after Matteo Cairoli’s double stint. The #911 Proton Competition Porsche claimed the third position, followed by the #72 TF Sport Aston Martin.
Unfortunately, the #83 Richard Mille AF Corse Ferrari went off the track in a rain shower, retiring from the event. The #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche 911 RSR-19 suffered damage when it was hit by the #22 United Autosports car driven by Frederik Lubin, but both teams made repairs and rejoined the race, albeit losing considerable time. In the third hour, the #60 Iron Lynx Ferrari collided with the #16 Proton Competition Porsche at Tertre Rouge, leading to the retirement of both cars.
At the front both Ferrari drivers, Miguel Molina and Antonio Giovinazzi, headed to the pits, temporarily relinquishing their lead. Nick Tandy now led the race with the #75 Porsche, followed initially by Brendon Hartley’s #8 Toyota. However, Hartley soon joined his competitors in the pits, allowing the leaderboard to continue shifting in this thrilling battle at Le Mans.
Unfortunately for Porsche, they faced another setback when the #5 car of Dane Cameron experienced unexplained slowness on the Hunaudieres straight. After a pit stop, Frederic Makowiecki took over, but the team had been lapped. Porsche’s only remaining car in contention at the front was the #75, driven by Nick Tandy, Felipe Nasr, and Mathieu Jaminet. On a positive note, the Jota-Porsche crew had performed an outstanding repair job, and the #38 car, with Will Stevens behind the wheel, was back on track.
However, Porsche’s lead with Nick Tandy was short-lived as he too headed to the pits, allowing the Ferrari one-two to be restored. Miguel Molina led the way, with Antonio Giovinazzi close behind. Loic Duval now held fourth place in the Peugeot, with Alex Lynn’s Cadillac in fifth.
As the race progressed, the sky grew darker and the track temperature dropped. The headlights were switched on, indicating the approaching sunset forecasted for 21:57 local time. However, the sky remained cloudy, and the track had not yet fully dried. The Ferrari duo held a roughly 16-second advantage over their rivals.
An update from Porsche regarding the #5 car, explained that it had to be restarted due to a sensor issue and had also suffered a slow puncture. Meanwhile, Antonio Giovinazzi and Alex Lynn made their way to the pits for their seventh and sixth stops, respectively. Miguel Molina maintained his lead, with Loic Duval’s Peugeot now chasing him closely. However, just one lap later, both Molina and Duval also made their way to the pits.
As a result, Toyota inherited a one-two lead, with Brendon Hartley in the #8 car ahead of Jose Maria Lopez in the #7 car. Nick Tandy held third place in the Porsche. However, all three leaders were due for a pit stop.
With all the pit stops completed, Ferrari reclaimed the top positions, with Alessandro Pier Guidi leading the way followed by Nicklas Nielsen. Loic Duval remained in third place.
As night fell upon the La Sarthe circuit, the LMP2 category witnessed a major shake-up. The No.34 Inter Europol Competition Oreca-Gibson, driven by Albert Costa, Fabio Scherer, and Jakub Smiechowski, took over the lead with a clever and intricate strategy at the front of the field. Their well-executed game plan allowed them to emerge on top in the highly competitive class.
United Autosports, however, was not far behind, as Tom Blomqvist made significant progress in closing the gap to the leaders in the Polish-run Oreca-Gibson. Blomqvist even managed to take the lead momentarily. Unfortunately, his triumph was short-lived as he encountered an issue suspected to be related to the brakes. The car went off track and suffered damage, sliding down to 17th place in the class. This incident handed the lead back to the Inter Europol Competition car.
Meanwhile, the No.41 Team WRT entry demonstrated resilience by recovering from rear-end damage incurred during the first rain shower. Despite the setback, Robert Kubica took the wheel for the second stint and managed to secure a strong second place in the class.
The AF Corse team, sporting their distinctive ‘Zebra’ livery, held the fourth position in the LMP2 category. They trailed behind the No.35 Alpine ELF Team entry, which endured an excursion into the gravel at Mulsanne Corner during the seventh hour of the race. Remarkably, AF Corse boasted the highest-placed Pro/Am lineup in the field.
Drama unfolded at Indianapolis as the Racing for Turkey car, driven by Salih Yoluc, and the No.9 Prema collided during a heavy rain shower. Unfortunately, the Prema entry suffered more severe damage, resulting in the loss of several laps while repairs were carried out.
The Jota Oreca-Gibson, previously a front-runner, faced setbacks when Oliver Rasmussen crashed at Tertre Rouge coinciding with the arrival of rain. The team managed to get the car back on track, with Pietro Fittipaldi running in sixth place.
More troubles befell the No.22 United Autosports entry when Frederick Lubin went off track at Indianapolis during another rain shower. Nevertheless, the car soldiered on, continuing its race in the 19th position in the LMP2 class.
In the LMGTE AM category, the dynamics were constantly shifting, keeping the competition intense. Following a heavy rain shower, the No.54 AF Corse Ferrari reclaimed the lead with an impressive triple stint by David Rigon. The challenging conditions showcased Rigon’s skill and determination as he navigated the treacherous track.
However, Rigon eventually handed over the wheel to teammate Francesco Castellacci, allowing the lead to slip away to the Iron Dames Porsche. Sarah Bovy took over from Rahel Frey in the Iron Dames car and found herself leading the pack as the race endured a lengthy second Safety Car period. The Safety Car prompted a new pass-around system, adding another layer of complexity to the race.
As midnight approached, it was the No.56 Project 1 AO Racing ‘Rexy’ Porsche 911 RSR-19 that secured the lead. The battle at the front remained tight among these three teams, providing thrilling moments for the spectators.
The Iron Dames settled into second place, just ahead of the AF Corse Ferrari, with Rigon back behind the wheel and pushing for a comeback. The No.57 Kessel Racing Ferrari held the fourth position, with Scott Huffaker piloting the car. Notably, the No.911 Porsche featured film star Michael Fassbender as part of its driver lineup and sat in fifth place.
However, the No.72 TF Sport Aston Martin’s hopes of a strong finish were dashed when Arnold Robin crashed, forcing the team to retire from the race.
Adding a touch of innovation to the mix, the Hendrick Motorsports-run Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 made its presence felt, impressively sitting in 38th place overall. Driven by NASCAR legend Jimmy Johnson, the car showcased the adaptability of the team by utilizing intermediate Goodyear tyres in the ever-changing weather conditions.
Amidst all the on-track action, heavy showers arrived as predicted, further adding to the challenges faced by the drivers on certain parts of the track. The changing weather conditions added an extra layer of unpredictability to the race as multiple cars aquaplaned off the track at Karting.
As the clock struck midnight drama struck the leaders as first the leading #51 Ferrari span at the first Mulsanne chicane whilst trying to avoid a separate incident. Worse was to come for the #7 Toyota as it got caught up in an incident at the start of a slow zone at Tetre Rouge. The Toyota with Kamui Kobayashi was an innocent victim as it was struck by the #35 Alpine LMP2 which was attempting to avoid a collision between the #39 Graff Racing LMP2 and the LMGTE Am #66 JMW Ferrari driven by Louis Prette.
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