- Jul 23, 2014
As morning breaks over the Circuit de la Sarthe in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Porsche continues to lead the way with Le Mans rookies Earl Bamber and Nico Hulkenberg driving the #19 Porsche 919 Hybrid that still leads approaching the 7:00 AM local hour.
We begin this block with a massive car fire! Though thankfully not a dumpster fire, and especially glad to see all were okay after the #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari 458 (GTE-Am), driven by Abdulaziz Al-Faisal, caught fire in the pit lane. With an assist from the adjacent Audi Sport Team Joest crews, the fire was extinguished in a timely manner.
Nick Tandy turned the wheel of the leading #19 Porsche 919 over to Earl Bamber after a three and a half hour quadruple stint. It's been an astonishing run for the third Porsche, as they lead the #9 Audi with Marco Bonanomi, and the #7 Audi with Benoit Treluyer at the bottom of the hour - these three cars are out of sequence on full-service stops, but all have traded the lead throughout the race.
Speaking of blokes named Nick (or some form thereof), Nicolas Lapierre has put KCMG on his back in LMP2 and then some, with the former Toyota factory driver leading that class by about a lap over Pierre Thiriet's #46 Oreca, with Roman Rusinov in third in the #26 G-Drive Ligier.
GTE Pro continues to be an endless amount of fun. Aston Martin Racing #99, driven by Richie Stanaway, continues its battle with the sole remaining Corvette C7.R - Corvette Racing #64 driven by Tommy Milner as they run 1-2, separated by only a minute. The #51 Af Corse Ferrari, piloted by Toni Vilander, remains third in class, still looming large if either topples.
Mathias Lauda is continuing his improbable journey back from racing's wilderness as he leads GTE Am in the #98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage, ahead of its persistent rival, the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari (Viktor Shaytar), and Marco Seefried carrying the #77 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche to 3rd.
SMP Racing may be competing in GTE Am, but their day's going potato-shaped in LMP2 as Anton Ladygin boxes his #37 BR01-Nissan tail-first for more repairs in what has been a stop-start day for the new car. The end of the hour hits, Bonanomi pits and resumes in third in the #9, Treluyer in the #7 assuming second from his Audi stablemate and giving chase to Bamber in the #19.
Bamber pits the #19 Porsche for fuel and buffing, resuming in the overall lead. No relation to the late motorsport cartoonist Jim, the Kiwi has been sensational in his first LMP1 race at Le Mans.
Lapierre gets a well-deserved rest, turning the leading LMP2 car over to Matthew Howson and maintaining a solid lead over Thiriet in the KCMG Oreca. Then another fire for a GTE-Am class Ferrari! Thankfully, it's less dramatic than the JMW Motorsport fire down the paddock an hour ago, and the #61 AF Corse Ferrari drives away unscathed. As Harry Tincknell pits his #22 Nissan for extensive repairs at the quarter hour, the #23 Nissan emerges with Max Chilton at the wheel after Jann Mardenborough brought it in for lengthy repairs to end the 13th hour.
Another retirement is listed from LMP2: The #43 Team SARD-Morand Morgan Evo, only the seventh retirement of the race. It's really hard to believe this is a SARD car without it being clad in Denso white and red livery, but that's neither here nor there - the first-year venture's Le Mans debut ends overnight. There's a full-service stop for the #18 Porsche, as Marc Lieb turns it over to Romain Dumas. The #22 Nissan is fixed after several minutes away, and back out on track.
At the half-hour, #19 Porsche, #47 KCMG Oreca, #99 Aston Martin, and #98 Aston Martin lead their respective classes. Our overnight reporter suddenly dreads knowing he'll go to sleep eventually, wake up to catch the last two hours, and feel like he's missed every major shakeup in the order.
Banter arises when host broadcasters RLM engage in a bit of a debate over whether Ford's pending arrival to the WEC or Haas F1 Team's 2016 debut will be more successful. "The Collective" of listeners heavily leans in favor of the automaker that launched the new race-spec Ford GT yesterday.
14:45 in and the #98 Aston pulls in and out of the garage for a lengthy service, conceding the GTE Am lead to the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari, now driven by Aleksei Basov. Then shortly after the second fuel-only stop for the leading #19 Porsche of Bamber, GTE Pro class leader Stanaway pits the #99 Aston Martin for four new brakes - which isn't a quick fix at all. Fernando Rees goes into the car, and Tommy Milner goes into the class lead in his Corvette. Treluyer
Then we have what veteran NASCAR announcer Rick Allen would so eloquently describe as PRAWBLEMS!!! as the Thiriet Oreca now piloted by Tristan Gommendy gets punted at the first Mulsanne chicane by Rees, still trying to warm up his new brakes on his outlap and missing his mark badly, resulting in a "4x", and Gommendy conceding 2nd in LMP2 to Roman Rusinov's G-Drive Ligier.
The hour ends with Corvette Racing bringing the #64 Corvette in for tyres and front brakes, soon joined by the #99 Aston Martin, which needs more repairs after the clumsy accident with Gommendy, who hasn't returned to the pits. Gianmaria Bruni in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari thus moves into the lead in GTE Pro while the prancing horse's nearest rivals falter.
Our reporter goes in for a routine washroom break. With GTE Pro and then GTE Am enjoying drama as Aleksei Basov spins out of the class lead - it's still Earl Bamber in the #19 Porsche leading overall over "Team Gade" - the #7 Audi piloted by Benoit Treluyer. The #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca may be salvageable after all. Speaking of salvaging, JOTA Sport's #38 Gibson-Nissan is back up to 4th in LMP2 after early adversity put them well down the order. Didn't we see this movie last year?
It's almost 6:00 AM Central European Time and the sun is starting to peek out ever so slightly! Bamber elevates his pace, as does Treluyer, as they continue to lead.In LMP2, Roman Rusinov gives the #26 G-Drive Ligier to Sam Bird in a full-service stop, they resume in second place.
At the bottom of the hour, the #19 Porsche, #47 KCMG Oreca, #51 AF Corse Ferrari, and the #98 Aston Martin now driven by Pedro Lamy lead their classes. Bamber comes into the pits shortly after to confirm a quadruple stint, but the seconds they lose when they have to avoid a stopped Ferrari and right the car gives the #7 Audi the lead for now, but by only seconds.
The RLM announce team, led by John Hindhaugh, remarks at a remarkably low attrition rate as dawn breaks, but acknowledges there's still more racing and attrition left to go. Treluyer pits to start yet another stint on his tyres, and while Porsche has made huge gains this year, they still have a mountain of a task to overcome Audi, who are well and truly starting to make a push for the win.
Near the end of the hour, we see Jordan Taylor ahead of a pursuing Giancarlo Fisichella, who took over for Bruni in the #51 Ferrari, giving the lead to Taylor, who now pilots the #64 Corvette - with fresh front brakes. Mark Webber goes in for a stint in the 4th-placed overall #17 Porsche. Sadly, the #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca has retired due to terminal damage. Tough end after an impressive race, highlighted by great drives from Champ Car Guy, Tristan Gommendy, who was unlucky to be punted out of a podium finish for his team.
Our reporter begins the final hour of this block fetching a Pepsi while the RLM crew trade shifts. Dark clouds begin to appear as the daylight continues to rise above Le Mans, bringing the threat of rain with them. Oh My Lanta.
At 16:16, Earl Bamber finally emerges after a quadruple stint of three hours, and it's time for Hülkamania to run wild on Le Mans, brother. Nico goes in along with four new tyres and fuel, and he emerges in second, but set to take the lead back when the #7 Audi pits for its full-service stop. Looking to become the first full-time Formula 1 driver to win Le Mans since the tandem of Johnny Herbert and Bertrand Gachot in 1991, Hulkenberg has drawn all the attention to the #19 Porsche, but do not - do not! - downplay the awesome drives of Tandy and Bamber over this 24 hour race.
Near the half-hour, Audi responds by bringing in the #7 Audi for full-service, switching the former Super GT champion Treluyer for the former DTM race winner Marcel Fassler, taking on four tyres and fuel, and conceding the lead back to Hulkenberg.
Nicolas Prost runs out of room at Indianapolis, stuffing the #12 Rebellion R-One gently into the tyres nose-first, forcing a Slow Zone in the vicinity. At this stage, the #19 Audi, the #47 KCMG Oreca, the #51 AF Corse Ferrari, and the #98 Aston Martin lead their classes. Of note: In a race where Porsche 911 RSR engines have proven as combustible as kerosene-soaked gunpowder barrels at times, the #91 Porsche Team Manthey 911 is third in GTE Pro, now piloted by Michael Christensen.
The RLM commentary team begins to speculate over the weather and the tyre strategies of Porsche and Audi. Hulkenberg continues to set a high tempo and laps the #17 Porsche with Mark Webber in the car, a statement you'd never read in Formula 1 race reports up to two years ago.
Then a large piece of debris causes a yellow flag in the final sector, and it's flown off the engine cover of the #7 Audi R18 with Fassler at the wheel. After spending most of the race recovering from a puncture in the early laps, it's another setback for the defending champion team, seeking their fourth victory in five years. The #9 with Rene Rast at the wheel moves into second.
The graveyard shift now ends, but the drama is far from over.
CLASS LEADERS AFTER SIXTEEN HOURS (8:00:00 REMAINING)
LMP1 - #19 Porsche Team (Hülkenberg / Bamber / Tandy)
LMP2 - #47 KCMG (Howson / Bradley / Lapierre)
GTE Pro - #51 AF Corse (Bruni / Vilander / Fisichella)
GTE Am - #98 Aston Martin Racing (Dalla Lana / Lamy / Lauda)