Six hours of the 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans have been raced, with none of the predicted rain hitting the Circuit de la Sarthe yet. Whilst Toyota Gazoo Racing competitively lead the field, the shock pace comes from AF Corse who have passed the Aston Martin Racing cars on track to take one-two in GTE Pro. But what had been a fairly clean opening six hours have ended with a Safety Car.
The late Safety Car towards the end of hour six was due to a heavy impact for the #52 AF Corse Am Ferrari with the barriers at the exit of Porsche Curves. It was a high speed incident, triggering the G-Force alarm in the car which meant the Safety Car had to come out as medical cars were needed on the track. Alexander West, driver of the car at the time, has got out and been taken to the medical centre.
Sebastien Bumei had done a good job to recover the #8 Toyota to the lead of the race after the first two hours of racing. The car was on the back foot after it had pitted early for a suspect puncture in the first hour of the race. But the race certainly has not been plain sailing for the team. As the #7 disappeared into the distance, the #8 had to contend with a suspect right front brake duct cooling issues that lost them more time in the pit stops. Half an hour before the end of the sixth hour, Brendon Hartley had done a great job to close the sister car in with a lead of only nine seconds, but a slow stop to check the front brakes lost them 90 seconds on the lead of the race.
This quickly became a mute point as the Safety Car came out, catching the #7 at the end of the pit lane. The delay to Jose Maria Lopez getting back onto the track cost him not only the 90 second lead, but the lead of the race as Kazuki Nakajima passed him on track whilst Lopez waited for the pit exit light to turn green. Nakajima now leads the #7 by 12 seconds.
Rebellion Racing have had a fairly clean run in third and fourth, but are a lap down the Toyotas as we reach the 25% completion mark. #1 leads the #3, as they have from the start of the race, and the two Rebellions are split by around a minute.
The ByKolles Racing Team still circuits around the track, albeit having suffered some issues in the first quarter of the race. Nine laps off the leaders, Bruno Spengler was aboard the car at the end of the hour, trying to bring the #4 through the LMP2 field.
The lead has turned on its head in LMP2, with tyre stints and pit strategy playing into the hands of Jackie Chan DC Racing and G-Drive Racing. The Jackie Chan team has optimised on it perfectly. The #26 G-Drive Racing does have a pit stop advantage on the United Autosport in third.
The Safety Car has brought the the grid back together and the race for the lead could be back on. Working into the advantage of Jean-Eric Vergne, the #26 G-Drive is now only 3 seconds behind the leader in class.
So far, the battle of the tyres has not especially been seen, with the Goodyear and Michelin rubber seeming to perform similarly (the #37 Jackie Chan car runs Goodyears whilst the #26 G-Drive is on Michelins). However, as the track temperatures start to dip with sunlight disappearing, and the rain is still expected to make an appearance some point this evening, the different tyres are likely to start making a difference.
Porsche GT Team has suffered heavily with the late Balance of Performance change they were handed ahead of the race. They have been unable to show a competitive pace, and with power steering issues for the #92, making it almost impossible to physically turn the car, the race seems to be going from bad to worse. The #91 currently sits sixth in class with 18 hours left on the clock.
The fight has been between Aston Martin and AF Corse since the start, with Ferrari coming out on top at the six hour mark. The team leads with a one-two in class, the #71 ahead of the #51. The two cars are within a second of each other, so the next hour promises close racing between the two. Aston Martin are five seconds down the road in third with the #97, but the #95 got caught out through the Safety Car, losing a lot of time on the leaders.
Advantage has swung back to Aston Martin in Am, with the Paul Dalla Lana #98 car leading the way. Andrea Piccini splits the works Aston Martin from the #90 TF Sport, preventing a Aston Martin one-two in the amateur series.