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Le Mans 24 Hrs 2008: Hours 7-9

14 June 2008

Peugeot remains out front in the Le Mans 24 Hours as the clock strikes midnight to signal the nine-hour mark with the #7 car now leading the way in the hands of Nicolas Minassian.

Having taken the lead of the race towards the end of the sixth hour following a stellar performance from Franck Montagny, the #9 car had led the way through the seventh hour of racing with BMW Sauber test driver Christian Klien at the wheel, with the Austrian holding a slender lead throughout the hour ahead of Marc Gene at the wheel of the #7 car – the gap see-sawing between the two as they went through traffic but remaining below the ten second mark throughout.

The lead Audi remained the #2 car with Tom Kristensen now at the wheel for the first time in the race, although the 'Great Dane' proved unable to match the pace of the two Peugeot's ahead through the seventh hour.

Into the eighth hour however, Kristensen did make up a position as the leading car ran into trouble. Although the TV cameras didn't capture exactly what happened, the #9 car was suddenly seen beached in the gravel trap at the Ford Chicane after the Austrian ran off track. Unable to return to the track, Klien was left to wait for assistance as Gene moved through into the lead of the race and Kristensen also took second.

Klien eventually got going having lost a lap but he retained third place ahead of Mike Rockenfeller and Frank Biela in the other Audis, which continued to have trouble free runs but weren't making an impression on the leaders.

Despite a brief scare when Gene ran over the gravel, Minassian then took over the #7 car and continued to lead the way ahead of Allan McNish – who had taken over from Kristensen in the Audi – as the race hit the nine-hour mark with the gap between the top two sitting at more than a minute. The #9 car, now with Franck Montagny at the wheel, remained third ahead of the two Audi's and the #8 Peugeot, which has climbed back into the top six following its early gearbox problem.

Despite that delay, the car stormed back through the petrol powered cars but is now four laps behind its next target and despite lapping quicker than the Audis ahead, is likely to need problems for the German marque to move higher.

Team ORECA-Matmut continues to lead the petrol challenge in seventh place overall thanks to the #5 car of Soheil Ayari, Loic Duval and Laurent Groppi, while the #17 Pescarolo of Harald Primat, Christophe Tinseau and Benoit Treluyer lies eighth. The sister cars of the two teams round out the top ten with the Dome having slipped out of the top ten after being forced to pit with oil spewing out of the back. That oil led to a number of cars, including the #7 and #8 Peugeots being forced to pit to clear their windscreens.

The Rollcentre Pescarolo is now closing in on the top ten overall as Martin Short's team continues to run strongly while the Charouz Lola Aston Martin is now inside the top 20 overall and is ahead of the Charouz/Cytosport Lola which has been involved in a number of incidents during the race so far.

LMP2 is now led by the van Merksteijn Porsche RS Spyder just outside the top-ten overall after the Team Essex car suffered a puncture in the seventh hour of the race. Although the car was able to make it back to the pits without too much trouble, the second RS Spyder lost a lap meaning the Dutch car leads the class by a lap at midnight.

The Speedy Racing Team Sebah Lola remains third in class ahead of the Saulnier Racing Pescarolo and the Quifel-ASM Lola, with Embassy Racing's WF01 having dropped down the timesheets after suffering a starter motor issue that necessitated a lengthy pit-stop. The Barazi-Epsilon team continued to have a troubled run in seventh with the Bruichladdich Radical eighth after losing time stuck on track earlier in the race with an electrical issue.

GT1 is led by the #009 Aston Martin at the end of the ninth hour, with Darren Turner nearly a minute clear of the #63 Corvette of Ron Fellows, with the #007 chasing the C6.R down in third.

The Corvette had closed in on the Aston Martin after the seventh hour to lead in the eighth hour before the Gulf-liveried car battled back ahead. The second Corvette meanwhile hit problems when, after an alternator issue cost the car vital time, there was an incident in the pits when the car was dropped from the jacks with only three wheels having been fitted to the car. It lies fourth in class ahead of the first of the Luc Alphand Corvettes and the Team Modena Aston Martin. The Vitphone Aston Martin is amongst the retirements with a blown engine.

GT2 continues to be led by the Risi Competitizione team but the Ferrari now has a lead of over a lap over the similar machine of Virgo Motorsports after the Felbermayr-Proton team was forced into the garage with a gearbox problem and is slipping down the order. The Virgo performance is made all the more impressive by the fact the car is running without power steering which failed just a few hours in.

The BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari holds third in class with another car that had been in a podium position having hit problems after the AF Corse car ground to halt under the Dunlop Bridge and wasn't able to make it back to the pits for repairs. The Farnbacher Racing team lies fourth, complete with a door borrowed from the retired Krohn/Risi car with the JMB Racing car fifth and the Felbermayr Porsche now classed sixth, despite being in the garage.

The Flying Lizards Porsche is the only other GT2 car still running – but is well off the pace following its lengthy delay for repairs in the early hours of the event.


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