At the halfway point of the race, Toyota Gazoo Racing have a compelling lead as the only two cars left on the lead lap. It all fell apart for Corvette Racing who, after having difficulties with the pole starting #64, had a suspension failure that has taken the #63 completely out of contention.
The Circuit de la Sarthe descended into darkness for the second quarter of the race, the sun setting around 22:00. Brendon Hartley, Sebastien Buemi and Ryo Hirakawa led the way at the close of the twelfth hour after the #7 crew were caught out with a slow zone, traffic and a slow tyre change during their pit stop in hour eight. Losing about 25 seconds during their out lap, the #8 crew managed to retain the lead when they made their stop a lap later, giving them a strong advantage on the sister car.
But it’s not nearly as strong as the advantage Toyota have on the rest of the field, holding a two lap buffer over third place #709 Glickenhaus Racing. The #708, which had been the only other Hypercar bar the Toyotas not to suffer an issue, saw Olivier Pla spin off at Tertre Rouge in the early hours of the morning. It was a bizarre incident, with a suspect slow puncture being the cause, as Pla ended up on the inside of the corner, not the natural flow of where the car should have gone had he lost the rear.
The entire Hypercar field is very spread out now, with nine laps covering the whole class. LMP2s are filtered between them, but if it remains like this for the next eleven hours the ‘dash to the end’ will be nonexistent for the overall win for anyone but Toyota.
Antonio Felix Da Costa, Roberto Gonzalez and Will Stevens are still commanding the pace at the front of LMP2. The trio have had a great night stint, nearly holding a lap advantage over the chasing field. Their main threats are the #9 Prema Orlen Team and the recovering #31 WRT which, thanks to some incredible night stints from Rene Rast and Robin Frijns, now finds itself net third in class (not owing a stop).
Team Penske and Panis Racing complete the top five, with the #28 JOTA flirting with inclusion. Nyck De Vries began his night stint at the top of the eleventh hour and is expected to do a quadruple stint, now staying in the car until around 06:30. Keep an eye on the #13 TDS Racing x Vaillante (now not a Pr/Am entry) as it may climb the timing board.
The evening saw a few spinners going off in the dark, but most of them managed to recover and, even if after short stints in the pits, were able to return to the track. The #41 Realteam by WRT was one of the LMP2s to take a trip to the gravel, along with the #30 Duqueine Team and #45 Algarve Pro Racing.
Disaster befell the Corvettes, taking them from a strong looking one-two to only having one car in the fight. It started just after the sixth hour finished; the #64 came into the pits for what seemed to be a very early brake change. It quickly became clear that the issue was more troublesome than a brake change as the car was wheeled back into the pits. It was a brake pressure issue which cost the team about half an hour to solve. Nick Tandy, who was on board at the time, remained in the fight when he rejoined the track, but was then behind the charging #92 Porsche GT Team.
Focus turned to protecting the #63 which was now leading the class but as the eighth hour finished so did their changes of being in contention in GTE Pro. A puncture forced the #63 into an unplanned pit stop, but it was quickly revealed that more damage had been done. A suspension failure had also occurred, forcing the #63 back into the garage for about an hour.
Porsche now lead the class with a one-two, Tandy, Tommy Milner and Alexander Sims giving everything to close the 22 second gap between them and the #91 in second, but the #92 has a lap lead on the sister car, so are looking very comfortable at the moment.
The AF Corse and Riley Motorsport cars are having a very quiet race. They’re staying in contention, but haven’t looked to be making a move to add any pressure to the current podium sitters. James Calado had a brief off in the #52, causing the need for a short pit into the garage for repairs, but this only really lost the team track position on the sister AF Corse.
TF Sport have carved through the field in the night, leading GTE Am with a 45s lead on second placed #79 WeatherTech Racing. The top three is completed by #99 Hardpoint Motorsport with Martin Rump in the cockpit as the halfway point is hit. The #98 Northwest Aston Martin Racing in the hands of Nicki Thiim is fourth, 15 seconds off the podium runners, with the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing rounding off the top five.
After what had been a strong opening six hours, the next six proved difficult for the #93 Proton Competition. During his night stint, Michael Fassbender was lapping about 30s off the pace of the other Am cars and ended up in two incidents. The first saw him hit by the #61 AF Corse – Vincent Abril appearing to think he’d already passed the Porsche and came back onto the racing line too early. The second Fassbender lost under his own steam, bringing a slightly dampened end to his night racing.
This quarter of the race marked the first retirements from the 90th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans: the #46 Team Project 1 and the #71 Spirit of Race (engine failure). The #777 D’Station Racing is also expected to retire, having been in the pits four about two hours trying to fix a hole in their chassis rail.