The forty-five minute official warm--up got under way beneath clear blue skies and bright sunshine, the sun just starting to take the chill off what had been a surprisingly cold night. Phil Barker's crew had Tommy Erdos ready and waiting for the green light, and the Brazilian was swiftly through as one of the first ten to set a flying lap; 3:50.278 being his predicted race-pace straight out of the garage. That was six seconds quicker than Jonny Kane's opener in the Strakka HPD, but a full four off a second flyer of 3:44.931 from Lombard in the #41 Zytek.
His out lap, flyer and in-lap sequence completed, Tommy handed over driving duties to Mike Newton, the two drivers taking part in a race-pace driver change simulation, with the crew executing a swift pitstop. With that completed, Mike joined the track.
Meanwhile the trio of Audi R18s were clocking times around the 3:32 mark to establish a one-two-three for the factory, just ahead of the top three Peugeots. All bar two of the 56 starters had taken to the track, with the #71 Ferrari an early casualty of pre-race niggles, slowing to a halt out on the circuit.
Mike's "flyer" was a 3:55.180, and must have felt very satisfying if that too represented race-pace for the CEO of AD Group. His target this weekend has been to be within six seconds of Tommy's regular pace, and around the 13 kilometre Circuit de la Sarthe, that's not a lot. Job done, Mike returned to the pitlane and performed another full driver-change with Ben.
Only two cars had yet to set a time. The #40 Race Performance Oreca hadn't left the garage, and the #39 Pecon Lola had done an installation lap (no time) but then Pierre Kaffer ran straight-on at Arnage on his first proper lap. He recovered quickly from that, and came through with a 3:56.700 next time through.
Another troubled Ferrari was the #51, which also stopped on track. Things not going quite to plan in the Strakka camp either, with Kane and Watts completing single laps, and then the car static for some while with Leventis in the car but not heading out again. Indeed, it was Watts who returned to the #42 cockpit after thirteen minutes lost in the pits.
Audi continued to dominate the session. McNish set two fastest sectors, and then immediately pitted. Only Montagny in the #8 Peugeot had split the pack within the half-hour, although Bourdais was also pacey in the #9 Peugeot 908.
Ben's single flyer was a 3:51.732 to confirm a healthy-looking race potential for the RML AD Group HPD, but unusually, he was then permitted another lap, and posted a 3:47.622 to move the RML #36 up to second slot in LMP2. Things were looking better for the Strakka HPD as well, with a 3:49.480 from Danny Watts. Similarly, all looking good for Kaffer in the Pecon Lola, third with 3:48.183.
The final minute saw several teams slotting in with quick laps, including Mailleux in the #26 Oreca, posting 3:43.499 to move quickest in LMP2. Bourdais in the #9 Peugeot also swept by with a new quickest overall; 3:27.228 being a second faster than Treluyer in the #2 R18.
Ben's final lap saw him return the car to the pits (still recording a 3:59.617 via the twisty pitlane entry) where he swapped seats with Tommy to round off a full set of driver changes.
So, a very comfortable third-quickest in class for the RML AD Group HPD, and if that's an indication of typical race pace, then it sets a fair wind for the race.
Legends in Support
Warm-up was followed by the Le Mans Legends race for cars built between 1949 and 1965. This was the race in which Sir Stirling Moss was expected to compete, but as we learned on Thursday, the legendary driver announced his retirement from competitive motorsport after taking part in qualifying for this weekend's race. He is said to have acknowledged that, for the first time in his life, he no longer felt the necessary confidence in his own abilities to race. For a man in his 82nd year, it seems remarkable to think that Sir Stirling was still prepared to compete at all, but a very sad day indeed to believe that we may never see him on a race track again. Sir Stirling Craufurd Moss, OBE (born 17 September 1929) remains a remarkable man.
The classics were followed by a round of the Italian Ferrari Challenge-Trofeo Pirelli championship, which proved to be only one step removed from a demolition derby. A whole succession of accidents included a spectacular highlight of one yellow Ferrari striking barriers on both sides of the track and taking off and performing a half-somersault in between. The 50-car grid was whittled down by almost a third before the forty-five minute race came to an end, leaving damaged cars and barriers strewn around the track.
It took a few minutes for the marshals to make good the damage after the Ferraris had been cleared away, and in the interim the gathering crowds opposite the pits were entertained by a group of female "mechanics" dancing a routine that might have come from an episode Glee or Fame, depending on your age group. Then, one of the highlights of the morning's track action, with a series of demonstration laps by the 1991 Le Mans winning Mazda 787B, this time driven by Johnny Herbert - one of the winning drivers from that squad of twenty years ago, along with Volker Weidler and Bertrand Gachot. After seeing (and hearing) the Mazda pass through the canyon of pits and grandstands on Thursday at a somewhat sedate pace, it was a pleasure to see spectators once again holding their hands over their ears as the rotary-engined car screamed along the pit straight. Herbert wasn't holding back, and it showed,. Slick gearchanges helped too!
Onto the Grid
With the circuit "action" ended, the grid was prepared for the traditional herringbone formation line-up of all the cars. The mechanics from each team pushed their cars the wrong way down the pitlane and out onto the main straight just up from the start/finish line. Across that line, a temporary stadium had been erected, and at quarter-to-two all the drivers made their way down to alongside the famous Rolex clock and pose for the obligatory photograph.
of honour this year was Sir Jackie
Stewart, who admitted that the best
result he'd ever achieved at Le Mans
was a tenth-place, but that it remains
one of the world's most prestigious
the photographs taken, the drivers
dispersed to their respective cars,
or back to their garages. In RML's
case, Tommy was scheduled to take the
start, but Ben was designated as his "runner".
For the last couple of years the ACO
has re-introduced a form of "Le
Mans Start" where drivers run
across the track and leap into their
cars before the start. Last year a
number of drivers refused to take part,
and merely sauntered across the track,
rightly saying that they did not want
to put themselves through a sprint
just to climb into a modern sportscar
and wait for each one to me waved off.
This year the organisers relented,
and offered teams the chance to designate
a driver to do the running. As RML's
third-stint driver, Ben is expected
to have time to recover from his 20
metre sprint before he has to race
announced, the Japanese national anthem
was played just before the Marseillaise,
and greeted by a round of applause.
With the French anthem triumphantly
acclaimed (although only just a little
more loudly than God Save the Queen!)
and the real action could begin.
More photos will be added later.
Please note that the coverage below was posted "live" during the race. Our apologies for any typos and spelling mistakes made in haste, and changes in tense prompted by new material added after the event. Thanks.
At just after two-twenty, the designated runners crossed the track, some at a sprint, to join their respective cars. Once there, the starting drivers then clambered aboard and were strapped into their seats. Ben made a good show of running to the car for RML, but Tommy took his time, aided by Vinny, to tighten and secure the belts. Waved away by Rick, the RML AD Group HPD headed off on the installation lap. Tommy drove through the pitlane once, and then returned to the track and completed a second circuit before joining team manager Phil Barker on the twelfth row of the grid.
The tyres have just been carried out to the car, still warm from the ovens. Tommy will get a pre-heated set for the green flag lap, before the rolling start.
Car down off the air jacks, fresh tyres fitted. The nonessential mechanics have been asked to clear the grid.
Rick has given the car a final all-round
check, and Mason has ensured that
the tyres are all correctly fitted.
The five-minute hooter has sounded.
Tommy has fired up the engine. He wishes everyone in the team a good race. He carries out a lighting check
Tommy moves off from the grid. The #5 Hope Hybrid alongside stalls, but eventually gets going, but has lost his correct slot on the start. He can make up ground if possible before the leaders begin the race
The two front-row Audis are weaving their way down the Mulsanne already, followed by a close-packed train of another 54 cars. They start to spread out more as they negotiate the two chicanes and head down towards Mulsanne.
The opening beats from 2001 A Space
Odyssey are belting out across the
public address, that fabulous timpani solo
pounding out a rising beat as the cars
enter the Porsche Curves. The tension in
the grandstands is mounting.
The leaders are mid-way through the Porsche Curves.
They've caught up with the pace car, which has slowed almost to a crawl as the organisers endeavor to start the race dot on three. More rousing music.
They're away, at the start of the 79th Le Mans 24 Hours. The two Rebellion Lolas make a good start, and are ahead of the Oreca. "OK, All OK, A clean start!" says Tommy. He too has had a good start.
The second rebellion has been retaken by the Oreca Peugeot, and just ahead, the #8 Peugeot narrowly out-drags the #3 Audi along the Mulsanne and into the Corner. That's one slot down for McNish on the first lap - not his usual style!
First lap completed. The Oreca Peugeot
retakes the Rebellion Lola into the
Dunlop Chicane. Tommy crosses the line
8th in LMP2 just behind Meichtry in
the #40 race Performance Oreca. Mailleux,
Premat and Charouz make it a one-two
for Oreca and a third for Oak in LMP2,
with Jonny Kane slipping to fourth
in the Strakka HPD.
leads from Bernhard, an Audi one-two,
with Montagny (Peugeot #8) third from
McNish fourth, and then the other two
Second lap completed. Treluyer has a two
second lead over Bernhard. These two
are already through the second chicane
on the Mulsanne before Tommy crosses
the line. He's lost a position overall
to Darren Turner in the 007 Aston (above),
but remains 8th in LMP2. Tom Kimber-Smith
has moved ahead of Kane to take third.
Dismay for Aston fans, as both cars hit
problems after less than ten minutes.
The 007 has spun off into the gravel,
having only just past Tommy, and the
009 has pulled off at post 44, near
the start of the Mulsanne.
back to LMP2, the reason for the change
was a slip down the order for Charouz
in the Oak Pescarolo, #49. He's dropped
three places. So, order is #26, #48,
#41, #42, #49, #39, #40, #36 and #33.
The rest are further behind, with the
Norma visibly struggling.
Great battle resumed between McNish and
Montagny, and the #3 Audi is all over
the tail of the Pug. Tommy is almost
three seconds behind Meichtry in the
#40 Race Performance Oreca.
bad news for Aston continues. Having
recovered from the spin, Turner is
now running slowly in the 007. Neither
car is performing well and the two
are now last. Tommy is commenting on
a tendency to oversteer under braking,
which is making life challenging at
the moment. He's fending off the attentions
of Bouchot in the #33 Level 5 Lola.
A disgraceful display from Montagny in front of a crowd of around 40,000 as he weaves in front of McNish as the Audi driver is clearly the quicker down the pit straight. The Frenchman fends off the Scot all the way to the Dunlop Chicane, where McNish slots in behind to follow the 908 through.
009 Aston Martin is the first official
retirement. It lasted nine minutes.
Even Nigel Mansell did better last
year. The 007 has managed to make it
back to the pitlane and has been hauled
into the garage.
has lost a position to Christophe Bouchut
in the Level 5 Lola. He's now running
ninth, but by only point six of a
McNish finally makes the move stick, and
passes Montagny into the first Chicane
along the Mulsanne.
The leaders are now threading their way through the mid-field in LMP2, headlights flashing furiously as they work their way between cars involved in their own battles. Treluyer leads by only half a second now from Bernhard, with McNish about three seconds behind. The three Pugs are now line-astern. Looks neat, but they're watching Audi pull clear.
Elsewhere, the #51 Ferrari (Bruni) leads GTE-Pro by less than a second from Farfus in the #55 BMW, with Oliver Gavin a very (very!) close third in the first of the works Corvettes.
In GTE-Am, the #61 Ferrari leads by a comfortable two seconds or more from the #60 Gulf Racing Aston, with the #63 Felbermayr Porsche third.
Half an hour into the race, and only one
official retirement - the 009 Aston
Martin AMR-One. The 009 apparently
had alternator problems. No accidents,
only one "off" that we've
The Hope Racing hybrid #5 makes what is
probably the first scheduled pitstop,
although seems a bit early. The #1
and #3 Audis also pit for fuel. The
#2 stays out as leader. That's 9 laps
completed, so may have started on light
loads to try and get out of step with
the rest. Both Audis complete faultless
A new fastest lap from Mailleux in the LMP2 leading Oreca of 3:43.536. Almost immediately, he slows. In fact, he's crawling round, though the Porsche Curves. He has a puncture. It's convenient timing for a puncture - if there ever can be one - as he was due to pit anyway. Others pitting include the #48, the #49 and the #41. Tommy moves up to fourth in LMP2 as a result.
Things couldn't get much worse for Aston Martin, could they? Well, yes they could. Now the Kronos Lola Aston Martin #22 is limping slowly down the Mulsanne.
Jonny Kane leads LMP2 for Strakka, but has yet to stop. Pierre Kaffer is second for Pecon, #39, and Meichtry third for Race performance. Tommy holds fourth.
15:38 PISTOP (Erdos)
Jonny Kane pits from the P2 lead, waving
his arms and gesticulating as he drives
down the pitlane. Moments later Tommy
joins him. It's refuel for the RML
HPD, plus a few minor chores, including
attention to the brake ducts. These
are swiftly completed, and Tommy's
back out again. The LMP2 order will
be sorted within the next laps or so,
when all will have pitted. A 1:24 pitstop
for Tommy confirms one tyre changed
- left rear (This would be the first
of around seven punctures sustained
by the HPD during the course of the
Premat leads LMP2 for the factory Oreca,
with Charouz holding second for Oak,
with Kane third after a speedy and
efficient pitstop from the Strakka
squad. The #22 and #24 P1s split the
top three in LMP2 from the rest, with
Bouchut having exploited a good pitstop
to move ahead of Meichtry and Kimber-Smith,
who's dropped to sixth. Kaffer also
not a great pitstop to fall behind
Tommy, so the #36 now holds a genuine
7th in LMP2, 21st overall.
Tommy has encountered a few issues with
gear selection through the Porsche
Curves. Not a good place to have an
issue. He coasts, does a reset, and
everything goes back to normal. Phew.
Tom Kimber-Smith overtakes Bouchut (Level 5 Lola) for 18th overall, regaining fourth in LMP2. The GTE cars are now starting to make their first scheduled pitstops.
15:51 SAFETY CAR
There has been a huge and very frightening
accident involving the #58 Ferrari
and one of the leading Audis through
the Dunlop Esses. It's Allan McNish.
His Audi almost clears the barriers,
showering the photographers behind
in debris. Miraculously he's unhurt.
One of our photographers, Peter May,
appears to have been hit by the debris.
He too seems to be OK, although he
was knocked over by what looked to
be a wheel flying of the Audi. Thankfully,
it narrowly missed him.
accident happened when the two Audi's
came over the brow under the Dunlop
Bridge and encountered the much slower
Ferrari just on the other side. As
they struggled to find a gap, McNish's
Audi was narrowly tagged at the rear
by the Ferrari as he moved through,
but it was an impossibly narrow gap
and getting smaller by the second.
Both cars were sent spinning. The pace
of the Ferrari was such that the gravel
bed slowed him down before making contact
with anything solid, and amazingly,
Beltoise has been able to resume the
track and is heading back towards the
pits, counting his many blessings.
The speed of the fastest P1 cars through that section means that there's no margin for error, and as soon as he lost control, Allan was a mere passenger in the R18. It skipped over the gravel like a pebble across a pond, and then tumbled into the tyre wall, climbing up and pirouetting along the top before falling back onto the gravel. Audi's capacity to repair a race car are legendary, but this may be beyond even their abilities.
Hour 2-3 (16:00-17:00)
The shock, like the dust, has finally settled around the circuit. The #58 Ferrari has made it back to the pitlane, and will no doubt rejoin the race shortly. Some cars have used the safety car period to make additional pitstops, but in the main, everyone's staying out - most will have pitted only very recently.
barrier may take some time to repair,
so this could be a lengthy safety car
period. Although badly damaged, it
certainly did its job. having watched
the replay several times on the monitors,
it is incredible that the Audi didn't
go over the top and land actually on the
marshals and photographers who were
standing behind it. Needless to say,
there was a round of applause when
Allan McNish stepped, unhurt, from
the car. The same might not have been
the case had he been in the open-topped
The race officials confirm that the safety car will be on track for around 30 minutes. Now that we know Allan is OK, it seems appropriate to post a link to this video clip. He was on his 15th lap.
A strange calm has descended over the circuit as the cars continue to circulate behind the safety car. It is a moment to take stock on the overall order at the moment.
Audi still leads, with the #1 holding the top slot from the #2, with Peugeots then third through to sixth. The #12 Rebellion Lola is the leading petrol-powered car from Olivier Pla in the Quifel ASM Zytek in 8th.
first of the LMP2 cars, the #48 Oreca,
is 9th, with the #49 Oak Racing Pescarolo
second. Jonny Kane is in third, 11th
overall. Two LMP1 runners come next;
the #16 Pescarolo and then the #15
Oak Racing LMP1. Back to LMP2 for 14th,
with the #41 and Tom Kimber-Smith retaining
his grip on fourth in class. Meichtry's
Oreca #40 is fifth and Kaffer (#39
Pecon Lola) sixth.
An extra pitstop for Belicchi has dropped the second Rebellion Lola to 17th, just ahead of Tommy in the RML AD Group HPD. The 1988 race-winner, Jan Lammers, is running in 19th overall, keeping the Hope Hybrid inside the top twenty.
Phil wants to know if Tommy is enjoying his "Sunday afternoon drive", except it's Saturday.
The screens confirm a restart at 16:45. There is a flurry of pitstops as teams elect to refuel before racing resumes.This includes both the LMP2 leaders. However, judging by the state of the barriers and ongoing work, I think that timing may be slightly optimistic. We have received reports of three or four photographers with minor cuts and bruises, and being attended to by medical staff, but nobody seriously hurt. If we hear differently, we will let you know.
Revised restart now 16:50.
The #8 Peugeot comes in from some brisk adjustments under the front bodywork - possibly brakes or suspension settings. It resume fairly quickly. Restart rescheduled for 16:55. The accident site looks fairly clear now. Maybe one more lap behind the safety cars - of which there are three.
Last lap for the safety car. The lead Audis are second and third in their train, behind the #73 Corvette.
More than a full hour under full course
yellows, as the Americans call it.
It has given everyone a moment to breathe,
and reflect. The Oreca Peugeot pits
for fuel and tyres. The lights go out
on the safety cars. Drivers are thrashing
their cars from side to side to try
and generate some heat in the tyres.
Pressures will be low too, as well
Hour 3-4 (17:00-18:00)
17:02 RACING RESUMES.
We have racing again! An hour and 12 under the safety car. Tommy takes the restart across the start/finish line - the leaders are out on the Mulsanne, and final group restarts near Arnage.
whole raft of cars have suddenly come
into the pitlane, most of them in LMP2.
Jonny Kane is the first, followed by
Kimber-Smith, Meichtry and Kaffer.
This leaves Premat leading the class
for Oreca in the #48.
Both remaining Audis head down the pitlane for a fuel stop. Peugeot leads again, but all three have yet to stop. Danny Watts has taken over from Jonny Kane in the Strakka HPD.
News that Allan has been passed as fit by the circuit and Audi doctors, but is being taken to the local hospital for a routine check-up and scan.
Tommy confirms that the fuel light has
finally come on, so he'll be on his
last lap now before a stop for essence.
The Peugeots have also pitted now,
so the two Audis have resumed their
roles at the head of this race, the
#1 now one second ahead of the #2.
17:18 PITSTOP (Erdos)
Tommy heads down to make his second pitstop. Fuel only.
Tommy just been overtaken by the leaders on the run through Tetre Rouge and down towards the first Mulsanne Chicane. He's now lying 8th in class, fourteen seconds behind Scott Tucker in the Level 5 Lola, but gaining steadily.
Premat still leads the class in the Team Oreca #48, by almost a minute from Pierre Kaffer in the Pecon Lola. Tom Kimber-Smith has third.
Alex Wurz takes second place from Bernhard along the Mulsanne. Peugeot second, Audi first and third.
The #1 then comes in for a pitstop. Bernhard climbs out, Dumas gets in. Scott Tucker has also pitted, so Tommy through to 18th without having to work too hard.
The #5 Hope Racing Flybrid slows to a halt. Reason not known. It has stopped at the entrance to the pitlane. Could be nothing more than fuel. Zacchia finally gets the car back to the garage at 17:43.
Kaffer had briefly held the lead in LMP2, but Premat regained it on the last lap, with Kimber-Smith third in the Greaves Zytek. He's 16 seconds behind the Pecon Lola. Danny Watts has just set a new fastest lap for the Strakka HPD of 3:46.133 and closes to within three seconds of TKS.
The day gets worse for #58, with a puncture to the red Luxury Racing Ferrari, which had resumed racing after its contretemps with Allan McNish. It is now returning smokily towards the pits.
The leading Audi enters the pitlane, and so does the Pecon Lola. The former drops to third. Kimber-Smith also makes a pitstop.
17:50 PITSTOP (Erdos out, Newton in)
An end to Tommy's mammoth opening stint
- nearly three hours in the cockpit.
Fuel, tyres and driver change, with
Mike taking over the RML HPD. Clean
pitstop, no problems, and Mike is soon
back out on track.
More pitstops among the leading group, so position changes too. Wurz leads for Peugeot, but has yet to stop, so Treluyer is the genuine top-dog.
A slick pitstop by the Strakka crew gained them a position during that last raft of pitstops, and Danny Watts is now running second in LMP2, but a long way behind Premat.
Hour 4-5 (18:00-19:00)
Wurz pits from the lead, and Treluyer goes by. Normal service resumed. The #49 Oak Racing Pescarolo pits with a puncture, but is well out of contention at the moment.
Watts is 2:36 behind Premat, and also currently a second or more slower each lap.
Puncture for the #77 Felbermayr Porsche,
and it's early in the lap, so dropping
rapidly down the screens. The tyre
carcass rips free and spins off across
the track, narrowly missing the #68
Ford GT. The #74 Corvette leads GTE-Pro,
Magnussen enjoying over a minute's
advantage over Farfus in the first
of the two BMWs. The second . . . is
third. In GTE-Am, the #60 Aston has
moved through to take the lead from
the #61 Ferrari, with the Larbre Corvette
Marc Lieb arrives at the Felbermayr garage after an arduous and very slow lap. Luckily, no major damage to the car, although the rear-left wheel arch requires some remedial attention, wrapped off in tank tape.
The two BMWs are almost nose-to-tail and Muller in the #56 is closing on Farfus fairly rapidly. Marc Lieb is back out again in the #77.
An unscheduled stop for the #1 Audi, but the car was only stationary for a matter of seconds. Dumas regains the track in 6th.
An LMP2 update reveals Premat still leading by 50 seconds from Watts despite having made his fourth pitstop. Lombard is third in the Greaves Zytek ahead of Perez in the Pecon Lola, fourth. Mike Newton is fifth.
Treluyer leads overall my a whopping 52 seconds from Davidson, up to the point when he pits. The Peugeots appear able to go a lap or two further between pitstops. It's fuel and tyres for the #2 Audi, and that's enough to cost it the lead. Davidson in the #7 moves ahead at the beginning of the 49th lap, and Pagenaud follows him just two seconds later. Treluyer resumes in third.
Meanwhile, in P2, Watts has been pushing the Strakka HPD very hard and posting some of the car's quickest laps of the race, including a 3:45.056 on his last tour, to close the gap on the leader to 45 seconds. Lombard has pitted the Greaves Zytek, and the Pecon Lola is in too.
18:35 PISTOP (Newton)
A very straightforward fuel-only pitstop for Mike. Should have held fifth, but may have
lost a position to the #22 Kronos Lola Aston.
The Quifel ASM Zytek blows an engine. Lots of white smoke, and then stop.
Strakka has completed their 4th pitstop, and dropped back to more than 2 minutes behind Premat, who is still in the cockpit of the #48 Team Oreca LMP2. He's getting close to his four-hour limit.
Davidson pits from the lead in the #7 Peugeot. The #2 Audi, now with Fassler fulfilling driving duties, moves through on the pit straight.
from Aston. The fault on both AMR-Ones
was the same - a water pump drive failure.
The 009 could not return to the pits,
but the 007 did, and the team is "feverishly" attempting
to get the car repaired and back out
again. They are referring to the race
as an on-going part of their "development
programme". Interestingly, the
drivers all suggest that the chassis
handles exceptionally well, and runs
through corners like the Porsche Curves
very competently. Shame that the engine
can't match that performance.
Mike and Barbosa in the Level 5 Coupé enter the Ford chicane nose to tail. The Level 5 car may share the same mechanicals, but has a better top-end, and Barbosa out-drags Mike down the pit straight, juggling between slower cars, and then whips in ahead as they round Turn 1 and make their approach to the Dunlop Chicane. That leaves Mike running 6th in LMP2 now.
Time for a round-up on positions in LMP2. The Team Oreca "factory" LMP2 #48 continues to extend its lead in the hands of Alexandre Premat, now enjoying a massive advantage of almost a lap.
Interrupt this to say that the #9 Peugeot just went straight on at Arnage, after the rear-end appeared to snap away under braking. There's a puff of smoke too. Looked odd. Less odd is the sight of the #5 Hope hybrid slowing to a halt again, this time at Post 8. It is the last of the cars still genuinely running, although 30 laps down on the leader.
The JMB Ferrari #83 has gone of sideways into the tyre wall at Post 11.
The 55 BMW has dropped out of contention and is in the garage. Corvette continues to dominate GTE-Pro, but the second BMW retains second. The #5 is moving again, through the Esses. Mike had to take avoiding action to miss it.
The Hope hybrid has limped to the first Mulsanne Chicane.
Mike is talking on the radio but it's difficult to determine exactly what he's saying, but he's through the Porsche Curves and preparing for a pitstop. Ben's in the garage now, suited up, eager and ready
Hour 5-6 (19:00-20:00)
Our attempts at a catch-up on LMP2 keep getting thwarted. Premat has just completed the 5th pitstop for the #48 Oreca, and finally stepped - perhaps crawled - out of the car. Kraihamer has taken over, and retained the lead in the process. The #48 still has 38 seconds over Danny Watts in the second-placed Strakka HPD, with Lombard third in the Greaves Zytek, a further 20 seconds back down the road.
Pierre Ehret has gone off at Indianapolis in the CRS Ferrari GTE-Am. The Hope #5 has finally managed to get back to the pit garage, and the team is working on it again. They should know their way around the car fairly well before the day is over.
Lombard does a new fastest lap for the Greaves Zytek. Clocks a 3:45.210. Mike, meanwhile, has had a "moment" (thankfully of non great consequence) having slipped up on an oily patch.
Barbosa pits in the #33 Lola, and Mike
moves through to regain 5th. (Have
just replaced the McNish video
clip (16:05 above) with a
new version that includes slow-motion.
We've heard from Peter May, our photographer,
who can be seen running for cover directly
behind the crash. He apologises that
he ran away and didn't take any photos,
but we're more pleased that he wasn't
19:21 PISTOP (Newton out, Collins in)
Mike arrives in the pitlane, slackening off his belts as he drives on the rev-limiter down to the RML garage. Ben is swiftly into the car as the refuellers go to work. Fresh tyres fitted, and a drop of oil added, and then Ben's away to begin his first stint in the Le Mans 24 Hours for nine years.
Further sad news for Aston fans as the
entry on the timing screens for the
007 fades to grey, revealing that it
has joined the sister car as a confirmed
retirement.Two laps completed by the
009, and four laps by the 007. It went
out after the team thought they'd completed
the repair, but only managed one additional
lap. The third retirement is, of
course, the #3 Audi.
We have a ding-dong battle brewing up for second, where Dumas has closed to within half a second of Davidson in the #7 Peugeot, currently on his out-lap after a fifth pitstop. With the benefit of warmer tyres, and a lighter fuel load perhaps, Dumas just has the edge. They're nose-to-tail through the Ford chicane to begin lap 66.
Strakka Racing carry out their third driver change, with Nick Leventis into the #42 HPD. He returns in second place, and has Karim Ojjeh half a minute behind him in the Greaves Zytek, and will be doing two 12 lap stints.
Ben's first few laps have been consistently quicker than Barbosa's in the Level 5 Lola but he has a lot of ground to make up - almost two minutes in fact.
Fassler in the #2 Audi has re-established a lead of around 30 seconds over Davidson, who was relieved of the pressure from the #1 Audi after Dumas pitted. Sarrazin is now in the #8 Peugeot and running third, less than two seconds clear of pagenaud in the #9. These two both moved ahead of Dumas when the R18 pitted.
As I write, Dumas spins the #1 Audi at Tetre Rouge after catching a thick edge on the kerbs at the apex. There's no damage, but it's an awkward place in which to turn round.
Fassler pits from the lead. The Audis do
not seem able to run quite as far on
a tank as the Peugeots, and each time
they lose places on track as a result.
Game on for Ben, as Barbosa pits and the
level 5 Coupé returns to the
track with Bouchut back inside and
just 13 seconds ahead. Ben is lapping
in the sub 3:50 bracket, and consistent
with it, but Bouchut's times from earlier
were a match, so may be a tough call.
GTE-Pro continues to be a duel between Chevrolet and BMW, with the #51 Ferrari hanging around in third and hoping to pick up any pieces. Westbrook's in the #74 and has 75 seconds lead over Hand in the #56 BMW.
Russo into the #39 Pecon Lola after a fairly efficient pitstop from fourth in LMP2, 15th overall. A few seconds further up the track, Ojjeh passes Leventis to take the Greaves Zytek through to second place.
Hour 6-7 (20:00-21:00)
Pitstop for Ojjeh from second in the Greaves
Zytek. Leventis retakes the place.
20:05 PITSTOP (Collins)
Ben heads down the pitlane to make his first scheduled pitstop. He'd closed to 11 seconds shy of Bouchut. The team add fuel only. The #77 Porsche spins in the pitlane entry
The #7 Peugeot (Pagenaud) pits from third. Davidson still leads from Fassler, but the Audi has already completed its 6th pitstop. 75 laps completed.
The #51 Ferrari, third in GTE-Pro, goes straight on at Mulsanne Corner, and buries its nose into the gravel. Vilander had a fairly good lead over Garcia in fourth, but it's likely that the extraction crew may take too long for him to safeguard the position. That will bring the second Corvette through to third in class, except Garcia pits before he can take full advantage. Vilander drops to sixth - or lower.
Pitstop for Nick Leventis in the Strakka Racing HPD, #42.
It's a sub-minute stop, so most probably just fuel. It leaves him almost a minute now behind Ojjeh. Ben Collins has returned to the track, after his recent pitstop, in sixth place. He's once again behind Bouchut, but the gap has grown to 65 seconds.
The #1 Audi is the first of the leading pack to complete a 7th pitstop, with Dumas handing over to Mike Rockenfeller. The R18 is holding 5th place at present. The #2 continues to lead overall, by 50 seconds from Davidson and Lamy.
Kraihamer pits the Oreca #48 from the P2 lead but has little impact on the overall scheme of things. He rejoins, still leading comfortably. Meanwhile, Russo in the Pecon Lola has closed to within 10 seconds of Leventis in the Strakka HPD, and the gap is narrowing by two or three seconds each lap.
Russo passes Leventis into the Ford Chicane, and pulls out a second accelerating out across the start line, and then makes it two within the first sector. The Strakka HPD now runs fourth in class. Ben is 64 seconds behind Bouchut, so we will monitor that gap.
The leader pits. Fuel only for Fassler, but Davidson is through and into the lead once more for Peugeot. He adds another lap on Ben as they head out between the trees on the road towards Mulsanne.
Nick Leventis is circulating very slowly in the Strakka HPD and has just been passed by the #49 Oak Racing Pescorlo - it takes a lap off the Oak's deficit and suggests that Nick may have a problem. That was a four-minute lap from Leventis.
Pitstop for the Level 5 Coupé, and Ben moves back ahead again, but there's only just over ten seconds between them. Ben should be quicker. He's just done a fastest-yet first sector for the #36 HPD.
Thrilling duel going on between Garcia
in the #73 Corvette and Lucas Luhr
in the #80 Flying Lizard Porsche. Garcia
has been tailing the Porsche for several
laps, and eventually gets a "drag" from
a passing Peugeot and moves ahead on
the run down towards the second Mulsanne
Chicane. The 'Vette is through to 25th
overall, fifth in GTE-Pro - but with
a pitstop in hand.
Two more fastest sectors for Ben as he
starts to eat into the gap between
the RML AD Group HPD and the similar
Strakka car, #42, ahead on track. He's
simultaneously opened out more than
20 seconds on Bouchut.
A new fastest lap for the HPD from Ben of 3:48.160. Having extended his lead over Bouchut to 23 seconds, he was catching Leventis by more than 8 seconds a lap, but now has to contemplate another pitstop.
20:48 PITSTOP (Collins)
Fuel only pitstop for Ben. It's a typical RML performance, and the HPD is soon back in the action. So, back to square one with Bouchut, as the Level 5 Lola regains the position.
Anthony Davidson pits the #7 Peugeot from the lead and Fassler moves back through for Audi, swapping on pitstops again. Davidson's margin had been just 20 seconds, so a good stint here from Fassler and the R18 could create enough of a advantage to retain the lead on the next pitstop.
Rockenfeller is the next to pit, bringing in the #1 R18 from third.
Hour 7-8 (21:00-22:00)
Nick Leventis brings back the Strakka HPD, pitting from third as one of the last to make this scheduled fuel stop. Before he leaves the pitlane, the class-leading #48 is arriving for fuel, tyres and a driver-change, with Kraihamer getting out.
Jonny Kane is back in the Strakka HPD, and David hallyday is making his debut in the #48 Oreca.
Karim Ojjeh is coming under tremendous pressure from Bouchut in the Level 5 Lola. Almost together through Arnage, but it's not for position. Ojjeh is a lap clear, but the view is indicative of Bouchut's pace in the coupé.
Fassler pits the leading R18 with 58 seconds over Gene, now in the #7 908. It'll be tight!
De Crem sets a new fastest lap for the #49 Oak Pescarolo. It's a 3:45.318, which is way quicker than the car has previously achieved. Ben is 27 seconds behind Bouchut. Hallyday's early pace is 10 seconds off his more experienced co-drivers.
Hankook Ferrari #89 going slow with blown rear-left tyre. Stop-go penalty announced for the #42 Strakka Racing HPD - reason unknown.
Hankook pits, wheel replaced and bodywork taped up.
Kane into the pitlane to serve stop-go
penalty. Bouchut has pitted in the
Level 5, and Ben moves through to 5th.
The sun is starting to get low on the horizon and the drivers are heading directly towards it as they come down into Indianapolis and Arnage corners. It's making for tough conditions out there.
The margin between Ben in the RML AD Group HPD and Jonny Kane in the similar Strakka HPD, #42, is 68 seconds . . . but Kane's quick!
Marc Gene leads overall for Peugeot in
the #7, but only has 21 seconds over
Lotterer in the #2 Audi, but the German
has already made his 8th pitstop.
Ben is preparing for his next pitstop, which will include a driver change with Tommy. Asked if he has any advice for the Brazilian, he simply says that it's best to nurse the tyres a little through the high-speed corners, because otherwise they "go off" too quickly.
Ben is through the Porsche Curves and heading for the pitlane.
21:31 PITSTOP (Collins out, Erdos in)
This may not be a routine pitstop. Ben has complained of a loss of power through the Curves, so the car is dragged back into the garage so more engineers can work on the car. A blown turbo is suspected, but yet to be confirmed. Will advise when we know for certain.
Second string Audi and Peugeot each in for simultaneous pitstops, and Rockenfeller passes Lamy in the process. So, Lotterer has closed to within 12 seconds of Gene, who pits next at 21:37. The #7 Peugeot is having problems with one of the doors but has headed back out again.
Lotterer (#2) leads from Gene (#7) with Rockenfeller (#1) third and Lamy (#9) fourth.
The RML AD Group HPD remains in the garage while the team work on the car. Has dropped from fifth in class to 22nd overall, and still falling.
Meanwhile, several GTE cars have been making excursions to the beach - the #88 and the #62 and the #63 are all currently off-track. Car 63 is the first to rejoin.
The RML HPD is still garage-bound and has
slipped to 29th overall, but now rejoins
with Tommy in the cockpit. That took just
over a quarter of an hour. Excellent work
by the RML pit crew to have the turbo replaced
and the car back on track again so quickly.
Coincidentally, the #36 had just been confirmed as running third in the Michelin Green X Challenge.
Tom Kimber-Smith unlaps the Greaves Zytek on the leading Oreca, with David Hallyday still in the #48. TKS is lapping around 8 or ten seconds faster than Hallyday.
Tommy passes the #44 Extreme Limite Norma for 28th overall, and thereby gains 9th in LMP2.
On-going problems for the #7 Peugeot, where Gene is having big issues with one of the cockpit doors, which keeps flapping open.
Hour 8-9 (22:00-23:00)
The #83 Ferrari is off the track and deep into the gravel at the top of Dunlop.
Pitstops for several key players, including Nic Minassian in the #8 Peugeot from 5th, the Pecon Lola from third in LMP2, and the erstwhile class-leading #26 Oreca, from 7th in LMP2.
Tommy Erdos overtakes the #56 BMW GTE-Pro (Andy Priaulx in the tin-top) for 27th overall.
Tommy takes another position. Goes by Werner in the #55 BMW to move into 26th position overall. Next target is the #80 Flying Lizard Porsche.
Current Top 30 is as follows:
Jonny Kane passes the Pecon Lola for third in LMP2. Seconds later the #64 Lotus Evora suffers what looks like a blown engine. It then spins on its own oil, but manages to get back to the pitlane. There's a flat left rear tyre as well.
The shutters come down on the Jota Aston Martin, #79. That's the fifth official retirement.
Tommy sets a new fastest first sector for the #36 RML HPD.
The #7 Peugeot is into the garage. Gene has been complaining for some time about the state of the tyres, and also the way the cockpit door keeps flying open. The team rapidly change the catch on the right-hand door. He's back out and racing after a stop of just 14 seconds!
Tommy converts that sector into a new fastest lap for the RML AD Group HPD, posting a new best of 3:47.020. The gap to his next scalp has shrunk to around 40 seconds, but he's eating about 14 seconds out of that target with every lap.
has been advised that pressure is dropping
in one of his front tyres. He is preparing
for a pitstop anyway, so the crew will
replace the offending wheel - and probably
just that one - when he calls in next
22:31 PITSTOP (Erdos)
Not the routine stop the team might have hoped for, but with just one wheel to change, still a quick one. Fuel in, tyre swapped, and away. The #55 BMW did get through in the interim, but only just. Two steps forwards, one step back . . .
The team advises Tommy that the suspected puncture was confirmed.
Meanwhile, Gene has been off (distracted by the door? Maybe it's still troubling him) and lost ground and a position, so we're back to an Audi one-two. Lotterer leads from Rockenfeller.
A whole series of pitstops, all effecting overall order. Kane pits the #42 Strakka HPD, now down to fourth in P2.
22:40 SAFETY CAR
There's been a massive shunt again. It
seems to be on the approach towards
Indianapolis. It's hard to tell what
the car is, or exactly where. Theory
now is that it may be Rockenfeller
in the #1 Audi, but that is not confirmed.
It's one of the fastest sections
of the track. The medical teams are
Confirmed that it is Rockenfeller. It would
appear that he caught a wheel on the
grass passing a GT car just before
the kink. The car he was passing clearly
moved over towards the right as Rocky
Identity of the second car has not yet been revealed, but it seems to be the #71 car.
A Tweet from the ACO's official Twitter account states that Rockenfeller is OK, but we don't know more than that. If the assumptions being made in the press room, which suggest that the GTE car moved across as Rockenfeller passed, this will increase the earlier concerns being expressed within the Audi camp over the standards of driving being exhibited by a small minority of the slower drivers.
of the cause, the scenes on the TV
monitors are simply horrifying, and
it is another testament to the robust
construction of modern sportscars that
Rockenfeller was able to walk away
from such a very high-speed crash.
Repeats of the on-board have now been
joined by remote footage from head
on, highlighting the intensity of the
accident. The video also reveals again
that the Ferrari clearly moved across
in front of the Audi at the peak of
the "kink", despite the frantic
flashing of Rockenfeller's lights.
is the Eurorport extract showing Rocky's
Hour 9-10 (23:00-24:00)
Still under the safety car, and probably will be for the next hour. Tommy is wondering why he's always in the car when this happens! He was stuck in the car during the last safety car period, for the McNish incident, for an hour.
Revised timing from race control, now predicting race restart at Midnight.
One of the safety cars - of which there are three - is running out of fuel, so a replacement has been deployed. Don't think I've ever seen that before.
Further revision - restart now expected
Despite the slow-moving situation, all is not entirely static on the timing screens. During the respite, Tommy has actually moved forwards a couple of places and is now back on Screen 1, 24th overall. Since things are unlikely to change much more this side of midnight, here is the current Top Thirty:
As we move through into a new day, this concludes our Saturday coverage. To continue following our live reporting, please click this link to view our Sunday at Le Mans 2011 page.
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