In one of the quietest six hour stints of the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans, disasters started to befall the front running cars, putting pressure on overall and GTE class leaders. Although the first placed cars avoided too much drama, the threat of issues for them is starting to show through their sister cars, meaning with six hours to go there is no certainty of victory just yet.
Toyota Gazoo Racing still hold a commanding one-two lead on the chasing field, with a four lap buffer keeping their positions safe, but both #7 and #8 were hit with issues during the last six hours. Kamui Kobayashi was first, halfway into hour 13, when he went straight on and Indianapolis very narrowly avoiding going nose first into the tyre barrier. The cost was the half a minute lead he had on the sister #8 car, which dropped to five seconds and eventually saw Brendon Hartley take the lead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. A few pit stop cycles later saw Kobayashi back in front and pulling away.
It is possible that the ease of which the #7 pulled away from the #8 came due to an issue the #8 was suffering, which over the last six hours began pitting more frequently on shorter stints. Suspect gearbox issues or refueling issues were rumoured, but Toyota have confirmed neither. Although the #8 still sits second with the four lap buffer to third in class, it’s clear the team are still suffering something as Sebastien Buemi had to slow on track to do a power recycle about half an hour before the end of hour 18. The #7 now has a lead of over a lap on the sister car and is currently in a very strong position.
The fight for third in class has heated up as, through pit stop strategy, the #708 Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus and #36 Alpine Elf Matmut are right on top of each other after their stops each hour. There have been some great battles and fantastic passes completed by the Glickenhaus crew, and even though at the end of hour 18 the Alpine remains ahead this battle is certainly far from over.
The sister Glickenhaus had made its way through the LMP2 class, but pit stops dropped them back down to seventh overall, behind the podium runners in the other class. The team are working hard to get the #709 back up ahead of the LMP2s by the end of the race, but at the moment it is most impressive that the privateer still has two cars running at the end of hour 18 considering this is only the second race the team has run two cars and their third race ever.
Team WRT are still commanding the LMP2 class, with #31 leading with a great buffer behind – over two minutes of a lead on the sister #41 car. The team seem to have settled into a rhythm and are executing their tactic to perfection, keeping the duo of cars in a strong class position. #65 Panis Racing had been third for most of the last six hours, but the recovering #28 JOTA team have joined them for a fight for the bottom step of the podium. At the end of the 18th hour, JOTA are ahead and slowly pulling away as bronze driver James Allen is back in the Panis, losing time to Sean Gelal every lap.
Drama came for the #49 High Class Racing as Jan Magnussen was tagged out by Roman Rusinov in the #26 G-Drive Racing coming through Arnage. With heavy damage to the rear win, Magnussen got moving again and back to the pits for repairs. Handing over to son Kevin Magnussen, the Danish driver was not happy with the High Class car, complaining over the radio that the engine was “about to blow”. Returning to the pits, the team did checks on the car and deemed it was fine, sending it back out on track, but the strong positions the team had been making up were lost.
The class’ only other incidents came from the #82 Risi Competizione, which dived into the garage at the start of hour 14, and the #22 Untied Autosports. It is not clear why the #82 car stopped for so long at the time of publishing. As for the #22, and alternator issue had them in the pits for repairs, taking them fully out of contention for the class podium. Both cars are back out on track.
Both Corvette Racing and AF Corse had serious issues befall their second cars, dropping both out of contention in the battle for third in class. The #64 Corvette fell first, disappearing into the garage with a clutch issue that lost the team 90 minutes in repairs. An hour later, the #52 Ferrari suffered a left rear suspension failure that also dropped it out of contention for class podium, a position it had been holding onto strongly. This has put the two works Porsche GT Team cars in a great place to pick up a third place after a turbulent start to the race, with the #92 leading the #91.
But woes didn’t stop there for the #52 which, at the end of the 18th hour, suffered a front right tyre blow out coming down the Mulsanne Straight. Sam Bird on board did a great job to limp the car home, minimising the damage, but it does mean the #52 starts hour 19 back in the garage.
The #72 Hub Auto Racing‘s race has gone from bad to worse, as a suspect brake issue saw it come to a halt on track. It was cleared from the track and not able to make it back to the pits, meaning it has become the 13th retiree of the race.
Although a pit stop infringement penalty for the #83 AF Corse briefly saw the #33 TF Sport retake the lead in GTE Am, the #83 is back ahead with a 40-second lead at the end of hour 18. The top three in GTE Am have not changed, with the #80 Iron Lynx Ferrari keeping TF Sport in a Ferrari sandwich.
Ben Barnicoat, who had been doing a great job in the #71 Inception Racing, was sadly hampered in his progress after he was sent from the pits with his front left wheel not fully attached to the car. It took until the Mulsanne Straight, where luckily Barnicoat took to the escape road at the first chicane, for the wheel to become detached from the car. Ten minutes of slowly driving around the Circuit de la Sarthe on three wheels got him back to the pits. Impressive as it was, it cost the team a lot and took them out of contention for the class podium. The #86 GR Racing also had an issue out on track, forcing it into the garage, but the cause is currently unknown. It too is now back out on track.