It has been a stirring battle in La Sarthe as the 87th Edition of the Great Race got under way. The Toyota Hybrid TS050 #7 in the hand of Mike Conway stole a march from pole, setting a high 3:17 on his second lap, and by the fourth lap he was down to an all-time record breaking race lap of 3:17.297 before coming across the back of the field after covering a little over 65 kilometres! The initial pace continued to be high and the #7 Toyota was able to pull away from its sister #8 car. The SMP Racing and Rebellion Racing cars exceeded everyone’s expectations to stay in touch until the first round of pit-stops that the non-hybrids needed to take a lap earlier than the hybrid driven Toyota.
All in all the #7 led from flag to lap 98, six-hours in, when the #8 started to take time in the lead and they continue to swap places through the half-distance. From the commencement of the race we did see a number of Full Course Yellow period, but frustratingly the introduction of Safety Car periods to cover a number of incidents saw the distance record pace fade away and at present we have slid behind the pace set in the 2018 race.
At half distance we have only lost one LMP1 the #10 Dragonspeed although the #4 By Kolles has been plagued with issues and is running substantially adrift from the prototype field.
In the LMP2 category all the expected teams have come to the fore. From pole it was not long before the #28 TDS Racing car was under pressure and has now slipped to fifth in category. Ahead of it the major participants from both WEC and ELMS are in a dogfight.
As we predicted earlier in the week the driver line-up in the #26 G-Drive Racing Aurus 01 has been a substantial difference and currently lead. They are pursued by the #36 Signatech-Alpine Matmut entry just one lap adrift, which is equally chased by the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car and the #31 Dragonspeed of Gonvalez/Maldonado/Davidson. Once again the top non-Oreca is the Ligier chassis of the United Autosport team #22 but they seem to accept their fate is held by the hares ahead and they need to just be the fastest tortoise in town!
We used to be expectant of attrition within this category, but currently it is only category where we have not seen a car parked up.
The GTE-Pro category was akin to a train of many varied carriages and relentless hustled its way past lap after lap. Initially led by the category pole-sitting #95 Aston Martin, which whether due to the late BOP amendments or some other gremlins slipped steadily down the order as others maintained their pace. Sadly the #95 came to a difficult end at the curve prior to Indianapolis thankfully rotating into the tyre wall, but a clearly rattled Marco Sorensen was able to limp away from the totalled Vantage.
We lost the #64 Corvette Racing driven by Marcel Fassler to a collison with the #88 Dempsey-Proton -Am RSR, though Fassler was assessed as having been responsible for the incident. The Corvette was finished however and in too much of state to even return to the pits. The #63 ‘vette is best of the rest outside of the RSR/Ferrari face-off.
The train continued but started to become a little more organised with the Porsche RSRs moving to the front of the Choo-Choo! There was, and still is one interloper, we spoke of how quiet Ferrari have been, and sure enough although the #71 has succumbed to cooling & engine issues, the #51 is in the thick of the battle.. which continues.
In GTE-AM it was not to be for the #98 Aston Martin Vintage which bowed out in the seventh hour. Equally the #88 withdrew when Satoshi Hoshino felt he was unable to continue having had a couple of incidents in particularly the one with Fassler mentioned above. The expected Porsche fest or even Porsche v Ferrari battle has not materialised the Keating Motorsport #85 leads having benefitted from some weight loss in the BOP revisions, and currently leads from #90 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage and the resplendent JMW Ferrari in that wonderful livery.
You can check the Lap Chart to date here and uncover the progress of your favourite participants.
As sunrise approaches, the weather looks a little unpredictable, but we all love that daybreak and the seemingly inevitable happy hour and breakages that often have dominated the race on a Sunday morning. Tune-in, get trackside but this one is still looking tasty!