Hour 13: Seventh safety car to the fore
23 June 2013
No sooner did it seem that the safety car had returned to standby following the dramatic exit of the HVM Status Lola than it was summoned once again, this time to cover a more lengthy interruption to proceedings at La Sarthe.
Shortly after the halfway mark had been reached, the #54 AF Corse GTE-Am Ferrari being piloted by American Howard Blank made contact with the barriers approaching Tertre Rouge. Although the driver appeared unharmed, the same could not be said for the Armco, which required the attention not only of the marshals, but also a repair team, ensuring that the seventh safety car of the event remained on track until ….
While the suspension of racing was utilised to clear up trackside debris from other sections of the circuit, there was a chance for the frontrunners – who had been setting a blistering pace – to relax a little. The #2 Audi, now with Allan McNish at the wheel, continued to lead, with a one-lap advantage of the second- and third-placed Toyotas of fellow Brit Anthony Davidson and Frenchman Nicolas Lapierre.
Like many of his rivals, the leader took the opportunity to pit during the safety car period, but raised questions when its left front headlight did not appear illuminated while the car was stationary. Should the issue remain, McNish could find himself heading back to the garage sooner than he would like…
The #21 Strakka team, currently in pursuit of the Rebellion Racing Lolas, took the opportunity to change drivers, installing Jonny Kane in the cockpit of the HPD in place of Danny Watts.
While the order at the front of LMP2 remained unchanged, the #33 Level 5 entry which had ended hour eleven stationary and smoking, was wheeled into its garage for attention, dropping to eleventh in class.
The #91 Team AG Manthey Porsche was also garage-bound midway through the hour, as the team took the opportunity to give the car a thorough going-over despite it having moved ahead of the #97 Aston Martin and into third in GTE-Pro. The stop relegated the German entry back to fourth spot.
The #99 Aston continued to hold sway at the front of the class until Frederic Makowiecki was called in for a lengthy bout of attention, including a full brake change, allowing the #92 Manthey entry into top spot.
Porsche also continued to control the GTE-Am category, with the #76 IMSA Performance Matmut out front from the #61 and #55 AF Corse Ferraris that lost their sister car with such consequences to the race at the start of the hour.
The troubled #70 Larbre Corvette was also in trouble, having come back into the pits and being pushed back into the garage.
Rain then returned to La Sarthe during the hiatus, with heavy drizzle gradually enveloping the entire circuit with 15 minutes left and growing in intensity at the end of the hour, prompting more and more of the field to head in for what appeared to be cut slicks or intermediates. Toyota took the opportunity to swap Davidson for Buemi during its stop, putting a fresh body out in pursuit of the leading Audi, which ended the hour in the hands of Loic Duval.
The safety car, meanwhile, had been poised to withdraw, only for the stewards to instruct it to remain on track while the teams stopped for suitable rubber, and the flurry of pit-stops ensured several changes of position.
As the clock ticked beyond 4am local time, the #2 Audi, with 189 laps in the book, led the #8 Toyota by a lap, with #7 Toyota just behind its sister and the recovering #3 Audi in fourth.
The OAK Racing #35 Morgan, on 179 laps, led its #24 sister car in LMP2, with Greaves' #42 Zytek up to third, ahead of the similar #38 Jota car.
Manthey's #92 Porsche continued to lead GTE-Pro from the #99 and #97 Aston Martins, with the second Manthey entry, #91, fourth in class, while Imsa Performance Matmut's #76 Porsche headed GTE-Am on 167 laps, from the #55 Ferrari and #61 Ferraris.