Le Mans » 16 June 2012
Audi leads, but Toyota strong in 2nd and 3rd
Martin had been sent tumbling down the running order by a costly early two minute stop. Also hitting problems just 75 minutes into the race was the #29 Gulf Racing Middle East Lola driven by Marc Rostan, stopping at the exit of the Porsche curves after hitting the wall and becoming the first official retirement of the race. The #40 Race Performance Oreca 03 Judd also had a comprehensive beaching in the gravel in the hands of Michel Frey and had to limp back to the pits for a good clear-out. When he took over the car, Jonathan Hirschi subsequently rubbed salt into the team's wound by incurring a pit lane 30-second pit lane speeding penalty; the #43 Extreme Limite Aric Norma MP 2000 similarly had a touch of pit lane drama just over the three hour mark with a small fire swiftly attended to by the crew.
As the four hour mark approached, the #24 OAK Racing Morgan Judd was still in the lead with Pla having handed over to Matthieu Lahaye. The second LMP2 OAK Racing entry was second in class with Bas Leinders driving, while Jody Firth in the #48 Murphy Prototypes Oreca 03-Nissan was up into third ahead of Ryan Dalziel in the #44 Starworks Honda.
The Ferraris were able to go a lap longer than the Corvettes in the GTE Pro class, but once the stops cycled through it was still Stefan Mücke in the #97 Aston Martin Vantage V8 in a fierce duel with Oliver Gavin in the #74 Chevrolet Corvette C6 for the class lead, with the #71 AF Corse Ferrari driven by Olivier Beretta maintaining third place until it spun off into the gravel at the Dunlop curve.
The #80 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 RSR went off at high speed into the gravel at Indianapolis 18 laps into its race and suffered right rear suspension damage, while the class polesitter #59 Luxury Racing Ferrari lost ground when Jamie Melo pushed the fuel just a little too far and ran dry on his way into pit lane.
Darren Turner took over the #97 Aston Martin from Mücke and Tommy Milner the #74 Corvette from Gavin, immediately carrying on the thrilling ding-dong battle between the two cars - although briefly handing over the class lead to the rebuilt #51 AF Corse Ferrari, which was getting markedly superior fuel conservation in the hands of Gianmaria Bruni. Turner finally made a slight mistake on lap 37, two and a half hours in to the race: he ran wide into Arnage, allowing not only Milner to take the class lead but also seceding second place to the patient Bruni. Turner pitted shortly after with a seat-of-the pants dive into pit lane, taking some of the heat out of the on-track battle for the time being.
At the four-hour mark, the #51 Ferrari was in the hands of Giancarlo Fisichella and in the GTE-Pro lead ahead of Turner in the #67 Aston Martin and Richard Westbrook in the #74 Corvette as it continued to look very much like a three-hander.
In the GTE-Am class, polesitter Patrick Pilet had taken control at the start and pulled out an impressive lead in the #79 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 RSR. Initially that was ahead of Allan Simonsen in the factory #99 Aston Martin Vantage V8 and Sean Edwards in the Prospeed Competition Porsche, but Simonsen was to fall off the pace with an intermittent engine misfire leaving Nicholas Armindo to jump ahead of Edwards for second in class in the #67 Porsche 911.
The #75 Prospeed Competition Porsche 911 RSR had beached itself in the gravel at Indianapolis on its 36th lap just shy of the three hour mark while Abdulaziz Alfaisal was at the wheel, and Matt Griffin went off into the gravel at the same place half an hour later in the #81 AF Corse Ferrari just minutes before #99 Aston Martin Vantage skated off the track across the gravel at the Porsche Curve and into the tyres, knocking the wind out of Kristian Poulsen.
Pilet was replaced in the #79 by Spencer Pumpelly at the second round of pit stops, who was easily able to fend off Raymond Narac in the #67 and Paolo Ruberti in the #88 Team Felbermayr-Proton Porsche 911. Seth Neiman was then handed the wheel of the class leader and as the four hour mark came up he was well in front of Gianluca Roda now installed in the #88, and Julien Canal in the #50 Labre Competition Chevrolet Corvette C6.
Unfortunately for fans of the futuristic Delta Wing - literally in a class of its own at Le Mans - the Highcroft Racing #0 car slid down the timing screens while stuck in the garage with a minor gearbox issue. The problem was tracked down to a standard actuator component, but when the car finally resumed the distinctive vehicle was 14 laps down and in 52nd place.
Tagged as: Toyota , Giancarlo Fisichella , Audi , Nissan , Oliver Gavin , Sébastien Buemi , Allan McNish , Darren Turner , Benoit Treluyer , Andre Lotterer , Alexander Wurz , Loic Duval , Delta
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