23 June 2013
Hour 15: Duval re-establishes Audi advantage
Audi matches Toyota pace to retain top spot in 90th anniversary Le Mans 24 Hours, but others don't show the same composure behind the wheel...
Despite the pace being shown by both Sebastien Buemi and Alex Wurz, Toyota's hope of catching Audi unawares under cover of the night was denied by Loic Duval, who ensured that the German marque not only kept its lead, but extended the gap to its pursuers.
The Frenchman ended hour 15 of the race by having put a lap back on the third-placed #7 Toyota, with Buemi in danger of following suit as dawn began to break over La Sarthe.
The order at the head of the field thus remained unchanged for another hour, with the #3 Audi holding firm in fourth spot ahead of the Rebellion Lolas and Strakka HPD, which continued to scrap over the 'best of the rest' honours, despite both the #12 and #21 cars requiring longer-than-usual stops in the pits.
The second of the Rebellion cars eventually rejoined after a five-minute spell in the garage, while Jonny Kane was able to take the Strakka machine back out after getting the once-over following his spin at the Ford chicane.
Despite needing to be towed out of the gravel at the end of hour 14, the Briton retained his place ahead of the remaining Audi, which continued to make progress, albeit now finding it harder to claim places as it raced with cars from its own class. Things were not helped by another trip to the garage, ostensibly for attention to the pedals, but will also saw Benoit Treluyer take over from Andre Lotterer.
While the battle at the front of the field continued to command attention, as did the LMP2 class war between the two leading OAK Racing entries, others were not covering themselves in glory.
Chief amongst those the gaining notoriety was Romain Brandela who, having spun the #39 DKR Lola at the Porsche Curves, did so again at Dunlop next time around – this time with more serious consequences. Having dawdled through the corner, a quick change of direction from the Lola saw it clip the #88 Proton Porsche of GTE-Am frontrunner Paolo Ruberti, pitching the Italian into the gravel, while the #55 AF Corse Ferrari was forced to spin in avoidance.
While both Ruberti and Daryl O'Young waited to be towed from the gravel, Brandela was able to continue, eventually pitting for repairs to the #39 – and rejoining without a working rear light…
The hour ended with the #38 Jota Zytek-Nissan limping back to the pits, having recovered from a spin at Tertre Rouge. Initial speculation centred on a possible puncture, before the team revealed that the car, which had been the biggest threat to the front-running OAK cars, was suffering from broken suspension.
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