The sole remaining Audi R18 TDi in this year's 79th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours remains firmly in control at the midway stage of the French endurance classic, as Benoît Tréluyer, André Lotterer and Marcel Fässler endeavour to put the smile back on the team's faces after the horrific accidents that removed both the #1 and #3 cars from the equation.
Following the spectacular shunt suffered by Mike Rockenfeller as the result of contact with the lapped GTE Pro class AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia driven by Le Mans debutant Rob Kauffman, the following two hours were conducted under the safety car as the barriers were rebuilt.
Once the action got underway again, as Tréluyer focussed on pulling clear at the front, the three Peugeots gave chase in his wake, with local favourite Sébastien Bourdais really ramping up the pressure with some scintillating lap times.
The scrap over second place would ebb-and-flow between the trio of 908s, and as 3am struck, it was Simon Pagenaud in the #9 machine leading the chase of pole-sitter Tréluyer, closely pursued by Stéphane Sarrazin in the #8 and Anthony Davidson in the #7, with the best-placed of them just under two minutes shy of the consistent race leader.
There was drama, however, for the fifth-placed Oreca Peugeot, with Loïc Duval undoing his good work in reeling off a succession of ultra-quick lap times by shunting the privately-run 908 into the tyre barriers at the first Mulsanne Chicane, damaging the front of the car. The Frenchman lost a total of six laps as repairs were effected, slipping to eighth place in the process, behind the leading three petrol entries – the #16 Pescarolo and two Rebellion Racing Lolas, the #13 narrowly ahead of the #12.
In a bad period of the race for Team Oreca Matmut, the #48 lost the lead in LMP2 when it was wheeled into the pit garage no sooner had the safety car departed the scene, and there was heartbreak, later, for Strakka Racing, as Danny Watts hit a kerb as he was pushing hard in second place in class and shortly afterwards complained of a smell of oil. The British ace was then forced to pull off at the exit of the first Mulsanne Chicane, with suspected damage to an oil pipe or cooler.
A crushing disappointment for the Strakka Racing crew who had worked so hard to repair the car following Nick Leventis' qualifying accident on Wednesday, the #42 was joined on the sidelines by the #39 PeCom Racing Lola, which Matias Russo backed into the barriers from fourth in class. The variety of dramas leaves Karim Ojjeh at the head of the LMP2 field for Greaves Motorsport, just under two minutes ahead of the recovering Team Oreca Matmut entry.
In GTE-Pro, Jan Magnussen leads the way for the factory Corvette Racing effort, ahead of team-mate Tom Milner in the sister #73 machine – as the Hankook-Team Farnbacher Ferrari hit trouble, as did the #56 BMW M3, which Joey Hand spun into the gravel trap. The Team Felbermayr-Proton Porsche similarly picked up damage.
In GTE-Am, finally, the Flying Lizard Motorsport Porsche is in charge, whilst Michele Rugolo stopped to bring an end to the Krohn Racing challenge, and the Gulf AMR Middle East Aston Martin Vantage lost time with an off-piste
excursion for Roald Goethe.
#42 Strakka Racing HPD ARX-01d – Mechanical
#39 PeCom Racing Lola B11/40-Judd BMW – Accident
#57 Krohn Racing Ferrari F430 – Mechanical
#24 OAK Racing Pescarolo-Judd – Fire
#1 Audi Sport Team Joest R18 TDI – Accident
#62 CRS Racing Ferrari F430 – Accident
#15 OAK Racing Pescarolo Judd – Technical
#79 JOTA Sport Aston Martin Vantage – Engine
#20 Quifel-ASM Zytek 09 SC – Engine
#3 Audi Sport North America R18 TDI – Accident
#007 Aston Martin Racing AMR-One – Mechanical
#009 Aston Martin Racing AMR-One – Mechanical