As darkness was brushed aside by weak sunlight on Sunday morning at Le Mans, there appeared to be little change at the front of the town's annual 24 Hour race.

Running 1-2 as they have largely since the start of the event on Saturday afternoon, the two British Racing Green cars continued to pace the slowly dwindling field, although the odd crack has manifested itself in the Bentley veneer.

As is so often the case, however, just one of the two cars appears to be taking the brunt of any misfortune - and Tom Kristensen's luck appears to be holding as he aims for his fifth Le Mans victory. While the #7 car continues to set the pace, opening out a lap on the sister machine, the #8 of Johnny Herbert, Mark Blundell and David Brabham suffered two setbacks that could have determined which car wins the race.

Not long after half distance had passed, the second-placed car crawled in for a regular pit-stop - but failed to refire on command, leaving Herbert frantically pressing buttons in the cockpit. Blundell, the exiting pilot, was meanwhile talking to one of the engineers, and Herbert's button pressing was quickly replaced by equally frenetic action on the 'passenger' side of the GTP coupe. According to Blundell, the battery had lost all power - so much so that he could not radio ahead to warn the pit of the problem - and needed to be replaced just to get the car back on track. Some four minutes were lost while the new unit was installed, enough to fall a lap behind the leader.

As if to make matters, worse, the same car then had to make an unscheduled stop, again with herbert at the wheel, when a right rear tyre deflated, dropping it closer to the clutches of the third placed Champion Audi.

The American entry continued to enjoy similar fortune to the #7 Bentley, while the Team Goh example was again a frequent pit visitor as it sought cures to a number of ills. The Champion car now sits a lap behind the #8 Bentley, while the Goh entry is a further five adrift.

In all, the top eight remains unchanged, with the Racing for Holland Dome holding off the challenge of the leading Panoz and assorted Courages from the French factory and Henri Pescarolo's team, but the second Panoz has joined Jim Matthews' R&S in sliding down the order after a protracted pit visit to sort front suspension worries. There is also the suggestion that it may soon receive a stop-go penalty for receiving assistance from more than the permitted four mechanics.

The Panoz's problems have finally promoted the leading GTS runner into the top ten overall, with the Enge/Kox/Davies Ferrari 550 Maranello continuing to head the class by several laps over the second placed Corvette of Gavin/Collins/Pilgrim.

The was some disturbing news for the Veloqx Prodrive-run team, however, when it emerged that the #80 car had gone off heavily at the end of the Mulsanne straight, leaving Anthony Davidson in need of medical attention at the scene. Although it has since been revealed that the BAR test driver had received bruising and shock in the incident, he appears to have escaped serious injury.

Although still some three or four laps adrift, the two Corvettes have pegged the Ferrari's breakaway and, with Olly Gavin still to return to the cockpit, the battle could yet pick up. The #53 Corvette continues to struggle with alternator problems, however, and may not feature in the fight.

Behind the predicted frontrunners, Luc Alphand's Ferrari continues to hold third place, while the sole remaining Saleen continues to lap between pit-stops. Showing its age, the Larbre Viper plugs away, but appears more reliable than anything other than the leading Ferrari in GTS.

It is a similar story in LMP675, where the ageing Noel del Bello Reynard continues to hold sway after problems beset the DBA and WRs. The VW-powered car holds a massive thirty-lap advantage over John Nielsen's red-and-white machine, while the locally-built WRs fade from contention with mechanical problems.

As it has throughout the night, the GT class continues to provide the focal point of the race, with two teams exchanging the lead with some regularity. Sascha Maassen's charge back after two radiator-related problems eventually paid dividends when he moved ahead of the Orbit Porsche, only for FIA GT team-mate Marc Lieb to restore the balance when his fellow German had to pit.

When Maassen rejoined the fray, he was ranged against American gentleman racer Leo Hindery, and there was little the ALMS regular could do against the skill of one of Porsche's favourite sons. Once again, the Alex Job entry looked set to move ahead, but the battle should rage to the chequered flag, which is still some nine hours away.

At the back of the field, the unique Spyker continues to ply its trade in the GT class, and is gaining ground on the stricken Terada/Pickering/Porta WR for 35th overall. Only the Team Nasamax alternate-fuel car is worse off among the remaining 'runners' with its entire rear end in pieces after succumbing to a major gearbox gremlin.

Dawn did not break with glorious red skies, but instead brought with it heavy cloud, cooler temperatures and the very real threat of rain. It may just be what the race needs to re-inject some excitement up front...

 

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