Toyota Gazoo Racing have continued to dominate the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the front of the grid, but and action-packed GTE Pro battle has eclipsed the front running duo.
It has been fairly plain sailing for Toyota at the front of the grid. The #7 has led pretty much the full race, albeit a few laps in which the #8 held class honours. But the fight has been muted a little in the last five hours as the #8 fell over a minute off the sister car.
A front wing change for aerodynamics gives reason to the long stop that the Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima‘s car suffered in hour four, and since then they have looked to be on the back foot in comparison to Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi.
The second placed car got unlucky in the first safety car period, that occurred at the start of the sixth hour due to the LMP2 RLR M Sport #43 going off at Tertre Rouge and needing recovering, as the #8 pitted just before the safety car was released. This meant that Nakajima was stuck sitting at the end of the pit lane as he waited for the second safety car train to pick him up.
This gave the #7 team nearly a lap’s advantage when the safety car came in and the track went back to green, but a surprisingly long stop for that car meant the #8 crew only lost around five seconds in the debacle.
It’s been a close fight between Rebellion Racing and SMP Racing for the first quarter of the race, with the advantage swinging backwards and forwards throughout. Issues hit the #1 Rebellion when it suffered with a puncture, which has seen it drop to the back of the battle, but the #11 has been keeping the crew of Gustavo Menezes, Nathaneal Berthon and Thomas Laurent sweating in third.
The LMP2 battle has been a straight fight between the FIA World Endurance Championship-leading #36 Signatech Alpine and the 2018 European Le Mans Series champion #26 G-Drive Racing. The duo of cars have been matching each other second for second in the pits, never slipping more than ten seconds away.
The G-Drive held the advantage until just before the end of the sixth hour where Andre Negrao went wheel to wheel with Roman Rusinov, getting the inside line and managing to make a smooth pass for first in class. The duo are likely to continue to have a tough fight until the end of the 24 hours.
The battle has also become a competition of tyres as the G-Drive runs Dunlops, whilst the Signatech has Michelins. It will be very interesting to see if tyres become a contributing factor of this close battle for class honours.
They have left the rest of the LMP2 field behind, putting about half a lap on them.
GTE Pro arguably has produced the most intense and interesting battle, with the top five in very close contention for class victory. The #93 Porsche GT Team car was also part of that battle, but sadly the late Safety Car in hour six saw it caught in the pits and lose a lot of time to the battle by joining onto the Safety Car train behind the lead battle.
Corvette Racing, AF Corse, and Porsche have been scrapping for top of the class, with hour five holding one of the most exciting battles of the race. Daniel Serra put in an excellent move on the then-leading #63 Corvette for the lead and has only recently lost the position to the #92 Porsche in the pit stops.
However the class top five are only split by around 20 seconds, and with pit stop strategies constantly shuffling the order this is still anyone’s game.
The #64 Corvette brought out the end of hour six safety car, when the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche failed to see it, swiping across the racing line and tagging the car round. Going straight into the barrier, heavy damage was suffered on the canary yellow car which saw it become the first retirement of the race.
The late BoP change to the GTE Pro field has really worked against Aston Martin Racing. They seem to be stuck at the back of the class after their boost and fuel reduction, but they have always performed well at night, so they may be about to come alive.
With the multiple safety cars and full course yellows shuffling up the order, the #77 Dempsey car, that had been leading for a lot of the last few hours, now sees itself down in fourth. The leading Keating Motorsports #85 has been very lucky with the course stoppages, managing to hold around a four minute lead.
The #98 Aston Martin Racing and #88 Dempsey car are out of contention as it stands after both spending a long period of time in the garage for repairs. An unaided spin was the first issue to befall the #88 in the hands of Satoshi Hoshino, and the very same driver swiped the #64 out of the race. Paul Dalla Lana had an off at the Mulsanne chicane in the #98, and the damage sustained in that spin saw the car in the pits for 17 minutes.
2019 24 Hours of Le Mans – Standings After 6 Hours
1. #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing – Toyota TS050 – Hybrid – Mike Conway – Kamui Kobayashi – José María López
2. #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing – Toyota TS050 – Hybrid – Fernando Alonso – Sébastien Buemi – Kazuki Nakajima
3. #3 Rebellion Racing – Rebellion R13 – Gibson –Nathanaël Berthon – Thomas Laurent – Gustavo Menezes
1. #36 Signatech Alpine Matmut – Alpine A470 – Gibson – Nicolas Lapierre – André Negrâo – Pierre Thiriet
2. #26 G-Drive Racing – Aurus 01 – Gibson – Roman Rusinov – Job Van Uitert – Jean-Éric Vergne
3. #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing – Oreca 07 – Gibson – Ho-Pin Tung – Richielmi – Aubry
1. #92 Porsche GT Team – Porsche 911 RSR – Michael Christensen – Kevin Estre – Laurens Vanthoor
2. #51 AF Corse – Ferrari 488 GTE – James Calado – Alessandro Pier Guidi – Daniel Serra
3. #63 Corvette Racing – Chevrolet Corvette C7.R – Antonio García – Jan Magnussen – Mike Rockenfeller
1. #85 Keating Motorsport – Ford GT – Jeroen Bleekemolen – Felipe Fraga – Ben Keating
2. #84 JMW Motorsport – Ferrari 488 GTE – Rodrigo Baptista – Wei Lu – Jeff Segal
3. #90 TF Sport – Aston Martin Vantage – Salih Yoluc – Euan Hankey – Charlie Eastwood