Porsche controlling GTE in Le Mans’ first six hours
Porsche controlling GTE in Le Mans’ first six hours
The 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans has crossed the one-quarter distance mark. While six hours are complete, marking the same length as a regular FIA World Endurance Championship race, there are still 18 hours to go.
PORSCHE DOMINATING GTE-PRO; SAFETY CAR ALTERS GAPS
Porsche has dominated up front in the GTE-Pro class. However, the No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR car’s lead margin grew significantly to north of one minute at that mark. A Safety Car period substantially altered the gaps on track in class.
The No. 92 car pitted, but with 20 hours and 23 minutes to go a Safety Car came out when an LMP2 car slowed on course and shed significant amounts of debris.
Sebastien Bourdais had cycled to the lead in his No. 68 Ford GT, but both he and the otherwise contending No. 91 Porsche both had to pit after the Safety Car emerged. They had to pit per the 14-lap stint lengths established for this Le Mans.
Because of this, and with cars that pit needing to stay at pit out until another Safety Car passes, this dropped them and a few others down the order.
Kevin Estre, Michael Christensen and Laurens Vanthoor share the No. 92 Porsche, which has the retro “Pink Pig” livery this race.
Estre told Radio Le Mans in the first stint that a full-service change just after half an hour into the race made sense for their strategy.
“With this new rule, you don’t lose time when you change tires because fuel takes longer. It doesn’t matter if you change in the pit lane. It may make up time on track,” Estre said (right).
Earl Bamber, in the CORE autosport-supported No. 93 Porsche he shares with Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet, explained the dilemma to the race caused by the Safety Car.
“It’s very good Porsche one car made it through the Safety Car but it’s pretty sad from an organizational point of view,” Bamber said. “However, the lap limit rule completely destroyed the race. This is why you have this gap.
“We cannot go more than 14 laps, and we got stuck with a Safety Car. If you didn’t have this rule, then it would be clear. You could continue without the big gap from the Safety Car. This is something they need to reassess in the future.”
Bourdais, for his part, thought the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team could run its Roush Yates EcoBoost twin-turbo V6 powerplant for 15 laps “easily” but doesn’t mind the stint lengths. After missing last year’s Le Mans, the French four-time IndyCar champion is happy to be back at his home race.
“We’re not as dominant as in ’16!” he said. Bourdais, Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand won this race in 2016.
“It’s a very tough fight out there. It’s kind of a ‘two-stage’ race. The Porsche took off, then they turned it down.
“We’ll keep digging and concentrating, and we’ll focus on our own performance. I felt pretty good. I made a couple mistakes. But ultimately we got the lead on my last lap, only to get caught out by a safety car and fall a minute and 20 (seconds) behind. There’s nothing we can do about that, and we’ll keep fighting!”
After Porsche and Ford, BMW has looked racy with its two new M8 GTE cars. Both the Nos. 81 and 82 cars have been in podium contention.
Corvette and Ford have diced throughout the race but for the fringes of the top five. Tommy Milner’s No. 64 Corvette lost several laps due to a suspension issue, and has fallen from contention.
Tommy had to bring the No. 64 back into the garage to replace the engine floor, which had come off on-track. Back out there doing good lap times in the fight back. #Corvette #C7R #LeMans24
— Corvette Racing (@CorvetteRacing) June 16, 2018
Aston Martin has been the only GTE-Pro manufacturer not to factor in the class battle.
TOYOTA CONTROLS OVERALL PACE
Overall, Toyota has led from the start with its pair of TS050 Hybrids. At the six-hour mark, the No. 8 car slotted in ahead of the No. 7 car.
In the fourth hour, two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso took the lead for the first time. The driver of the No. 8 Toyota passed Jose Maria Lopez on the run to the Porsche Curves. Alonso shares his car with Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima.
SMP Racing’s No. 17 BR1 AER has withstood the challenge from Rebellion Racing to be best of the rest at the moment in the LMP1 class.
LMP2, GTE-AM AND OTHER NOTES
The lead in LMP2 changed quite a bit early in the race but the TDS Racing-run G-Drive No. 26 Oreca 07 of Jean-Eric Vergne, Roman Rusinov and Andrea Pizzitola has taken control in the last few hours.
GTE-Am has seen Porsche lead most of the race as well, with either of the Dempsey Proton cars. At the six-hour mark, the pair of WeatherTech-backed Ferraris for JMW and Keating/Risi are fourth and fifth in class, with Ebimotors and Proton’s Porsches a bit further back.
There have been a few incidents and two safety car periods.
Dominik Kraihamer emerged unscathed from a heavy accident after contact with a GT car in the Porsche Curves. It ended the race for the No. 4 ByKolles LMP1 car, which had been running smoothly up to that point.
Two other “big name” Le Mans rookies – Juan Pablo Montoya and Jenson Button – have also made their race debuts. But neither driver’s race has gone smoothly.
Button’s podium hopes ended before they really got going with his SMP Racing LMP1 car in the garage for the first hour. They’re running, but nearly 50 laps down to the overall lead, with a finish now the target.
Meanwhile, Montoya inadvertently paid tribute to his two Indianapolis 500 victories by visiting the Indianapolis corner gravel trap. The United Autosports driver resumed after a lock-up, and was back running after a seven-minute delay for a nose change.
HOUR 6 STANDINGS