Le Mans 24: Midnight report

LMP1:

As expected, Toyota hold the lead of the LMP1 field at midnight. Mike Conway kept the #7 TS050 in front at the start, leading from pole position during the first two hours before handing over to Kamui Kobayashi.

The two Toyotas briefly traded places later in the evening as a series of safety car periods brought the cars nose-to-tail. Kazuki Nakajima, taking over the #8 Toyota from Fernando Alonso, passed José María López in the #7 to take the lead. Lopez retook the lead shortly after only to surrender it with a trip through the gravel, but by hour 9 the two cars had swapped once again and the #7—with Conway back the wheel—resumed the lead.

Third place was long held by the #3 Rebellion which, in the hands of Gustavo Menezes, moved up from fourth on the grid and held off advances by Vitaly Petrov in the #11 SMP. However this came to an end later in the evening, when Thomas Laurent put the #3 in the wall and dropped two laps behind the two SMPs, with Egor Orudzhev’s #17 now the Russian team’s lead car.

There was trouble throughout the first ten hours for the remaining privateers. Bruno Senna picked up a puncture for the #1 Rebellion in the first hour and dropped to last in class, while the #4 ByKolles made eight difficult pitstops in the by hour 3. Later in the afternoon the #10 DragonSpeed entered the garage and has remained there since.

Joao Filipe, Adrenal Media / FIA WEC Media

LMP2:

Signatech Alpine took an early lead as Nicholas Lapierre moved the #36 up from third to first off the line. But impressive pace from Jean-Éric Vergne and Dutch rookie Job van Uitert in the #26 G-Drive soon put the #36 under pressure, and Van Uitert took the class lead during his second stint.

The remaining class podium position changed hands several times during the first ten hours of the race. Initially Matthieu Vaxiviere held third in the #28 TDS Racing, but a strong opening stint from Giedo van der Garde took the position for the #29 Racing Team Nederland.

However, at hour 3 Nyck de Vries picked up a puncture during his stint in the #29. Anthony Davidson’s #31 DragonSpeed was briefly promoted to third, but was dropped down to fourth by the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing.

Joao Filipe, Adrenal Media / FIA WEC Media

GTE:

Corvette took first blood in the Pro class with Antonio Garcia moving the #63 up from third to first. But over the course of the afternoon the Porsches hauled in the Corvette and the #92 took the lead with Kevin Estre at the wheel.

In the Am class, Matteo Cairoli in the #88 Dempsey-Proton Porsche converted pole into an early lead. But this was lost when he handed over to Satoshi Hoshino, who spun the #88 on the Mulsanne Straight and handed the lead to Giancarlo Fisichella in the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari.

Hoshino would be involved in another, much heavier incident later in the evening as he collided with Marcel Fassler’s #64 Corvette, making the first official retirement of the race.

Le Mans LMP2: G-Drive takes maiden Le Mans win

The #26 G-Drive of Jean-Éric Vergne, Andrea Pizzitola and Romain Rusinov put in a commanding display at the 24 Hours of Le Mans to take the outfit’s first win at the event.

The #26 initially had a poor start, with Vergne losing places at on the opening lap and dropping to seventh. But after recovering one place to sixth, Vergne then went a lap longer before pitting than the leading group and the offset was enough to bring the #26 out into first, where it remained for the rest of the race to finish fifth overall and two laps up on the rest of the LMP2 field.

#36 Signatech Alpine A470 / Andrej Alesko, WEC Media

Finishing a distant second behind G-Drive was the #36 Signatech Alpine, driven by Nicolas Lapierre, Pierre Thiriet and André Negrão.

For most of the race, the #36 had been locked in a close fight over the runners-up spot with the #23 Panis-Barthez Ligier, with the two cars trading second and third throughout Saturday evening and into the night.

But with four hours remaining on Sunday morning, Will Stevens brought the #23 Ligier into the pits with technical issues—he was kept there for over an hour, dropping him to 11th and allowing Signatech Alpine to finish second unchallenged.

Panis-Barthez’s lengthy stop promoted the polesitting #48 IDEC Sport Oreca into third, until gearbox problems ended the latter’s race within the final hours.

In the #48’s absence, the #39 Graff Oreca inherited third and held the position until the chequered flag, with Tristan Gommendy fending off a late charge by former race winner Loïc Duval in TDS Racing’s #28 car.

#47 Cetilar Villorba Corse Dallara P217 / Marius Hecker, WEC Media

Juan Pablo Montoya ended his Le Mans debut in fifth in the #32 United Autosports after a puncture in the penultimate hour dropped the Colombian a lap behind the LMP2 leaders. Jackie Chan DC Racing’s all-Malaysian #37 car finished sixth while the #31 Dragonspeed, which had started second and led early on, finished seventh.

Racing Team Nederland’s #29 was the highest Dallara finisher in ninth, sandwiched between the #38 and #33 Jackie Chan cars. There were issues for the #35 SMP and the #47 Cetilar Villorba Corse, with steering problems for the former and a late crash for the latter putting them 12th and 13th in class respectively.

As well as the #48 IDEC, there were four other retirements in the 20-car LMP2 field. The #34 Jackie Chan became the first after suffering an engine failure during the night, and was followed two laps later by the #40 G-Drive, which was spun into the Porsche Curves wall by José Gutiérrez. The #25 Algarve Pro Racing also retired, and United Autosports’ #22 car crashed out from fourth with four hours left.

The #44 Eurasia did not retire, but went unclassified as it failed to complete the final lap of the race.

#22 United Autosports Ligier JSP217 / Joao Filipe, WEC Media

Le Mans LMP1: Alonso adds to Triple Crown bid with #8 Toyota win

Toyota broke its 24 Hours of Le Mans curse with an emotional 1–2 finish led home by the #8 car of Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso.

#8 and #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrids / Toyota Gazoo Racing

The Japanese marque was the overwhelming favourite coming into the 86th running of Le Mans, and aggressive opening stints from both Buemi and the #7 car’s Mike Conway soon put the two TS050 Hybrids well ahead of the privateer LMP1 entries battling for third.

The #7 gained the advantage late on Saturday when Buemi earned the #8 car a 60-second stop-go penalty for speeding in a slow zone. But a pair of rapid nighttime recovery drives by first Alonso and then Nakajima saw the #7’s lead disappear. Nakajima then completed the #8’s comeback in the 16th hour by snatching first place from Kamui Kobayashi on the inside of Arnage.

The #8 went on to hold the lead for the remaining eight hours, while the #7 dropped back after a series of late difficulties that included Jose Maria Lopez spinning at the Dunlop chicane and Kobayashi missing a pit stop and needing to take an extra lap at full course yellow speed to save fuel.

In the end Nakajima brought the #8 Toyota across the line with two laps in hand over Kobayashi in the sister car, which was a further ten laps clear of the #3 Rebellion in third. The win was Toyota’s first at Le Mans after 19 attempts and the first by a Japanese manufacturer since Mazda in 1991. Nakajima meanwhile became the first Japanese driver to win since Seiji Ara did so with Audi in 2004.

#3 Rebellion Racing R13 / Joao Filipe, WEC Media

Behind the Toyotas, Rebellion and SMP Racing immediately established themselves as the chief contenders for best-of-the-rest.

After Andre Lotterer lost the nose of his #1 Rebellion in a first lap collision, it was Thomas Laurent in the sister #3 who took charge of the Swiss team’s race by pressuring the #17 SMP of Stephane Sarrazin for third.

The two Frenchmen and their subsequent replacements swapped third and fourth position several times in the opening hours of the race, although the battle was eventually ended early and in Rebellion’s favour when Matevos Isaakyan spun the #17 into the barriers at the Porsche Curves shortly after midnight.

Isaakyan’s crash came not long after Dominik Kraihamer spun the #4 ByKolles out of the race at the same part of the track. The #10 Dragonspeed was another casualty of the Porsche Curves with Ben Hanley finding the barriers in hour 17, while the Manor-run #6 CEFC Ginetta and the #11 SMP were both waylaid by mechanical troubles to make it five LMP1 retirements by the end of the race.

That left the #1 Rebellion—which recovered from its opening lap crash and several late penalties to take fourth—and the #5 CEFC Ginetta, as the only surviving LMP1 cars outside of the podium.

#6 CEFC Ginetta G60-LT-P1 / Joao Filipe, WEC Media