The 71st Le Mans 24 Hours
Hours 19 - 21

10.30, and the AJR / Petersen Porsche pits with alternator problems, and the Orbit car is inching up - except that Maassen is soon back out, and pulling away from Leo Hindery.

The Panoz race is going away from them: Jean-Marc Gounon passes the Beretta / Jeannette / Papis Panoz, for sixth place. The Panoz grabs back the place when the pitstops unwind but this could develop into a fight to the finish.

Now its Orbit's turn for a visit to the pit garage, Leo Hindery getting oil and water temperature warnings, a replacement radiator the chosen option.

Another car in overheating trouble is the #15 Racing for Holland Dome, Andy Wallace bringing the car in from 5th place and precipitating an inevitable tumble down the order. It should have been a straightforward change of nose - for one that didn't have the ducts blocked with rubber debris. But the Judd wouldn't fire up thanks to a flat battery - and on the Dome, it's a long job to change it. The car rejoins down in eighth slot, John Bosch at the wheel.

The chase is on then for the #15 car to regain its placing but there are other battles around too.

The surviving Panoz, #11, is trading fifth place with the #13 Courage according to the pit cycle. The two Corvettes are circulating together, Ollie Gavin pulling up on Johnny O'Connell.

Then at 11:30 more drama as the #16 RfH Dome, Beppe Gabbiani at the wheel, pits for attention under the engine cover. It rejoins but almost immediately the front left hand tyre delaminates throwing chunks of carbon fibre down on the Mulsanne. The Safety Car is deployed to allow a clear-up and the Courage Panoz battle immediately becomes a very real dice, Olivier Beretta all over the rear wing of Jonathan Cochet. It becomes a drag race down the first section of Mulsanne. Elan V8 vs MG XPower (Judd) V10. The Panoz draws alongside and tucks in, battle over for now. The pair complete the lap (their 297th) around three seconds apart.

11:45 and the LMP 675 leading #29 Reynard is reported to be out on the circuit and travelling very slowly.

With just over 4 hours to go there are 32 cars still running.

Typed too soon, the Graham Nash Saleen has stopped out on the circuit with Mike Newton at the wheel. There's trouble too for Soheil Ayari in the #18 Pescarolo Courage, a left front puncture on the run down to Indianapolis making this cars 299th lap a rather slow one. #18 is wheeled into the garage for investigation into a fluid leak from the rear of the car.

At just after midday John Bosch is up to seventh as Ayari begins to fall back.

Tom Kristensen has completed a quadruple stint in the #7 Bentley, on the same set of tyres!

But Bentley haven't won all the awards! Green, yes. At one end of the grid, yes. At the wrong end of the grid?? NASAMAX? The hot money for PR person of the year was on the widely tipped Sarah Perris of Bentley, but when Janice Minton was summoned to ACO Towers this morning, we suspected something was afoot. Janice Minton - the very same who came up with the idea of a NASAMAX competition for dsc readers to win grandstand seats - is the PR Person of 2003.

Meanwhile, back on the track, the race for first non factory (or former factory) car is building up to be a mini classic.

For the bulk of the race, Jan Lammers, Andy Wallace and John Bosch have looked favourites to take fifth place...until they had to change batteries (a long job on a Dome, for some reason). The #15 RfH Dome slipped to eighth, but at 12.30 (ish) there's a great race developing between the Panoz of Beretta / Papis / Jeannette, the Courage of Gregoire / Cochet / Gounon and the Dome. The #17 Pescarolo Courage in eighth seems to be just too far back to play a part in this race.

The Bentleys and Audis are between nine and 16 laps up the road from this group, and with Bentley looking as though they are going to soundly defeat Audi, and the pair of companies having already trounced the opposition, we'll worry about the close racing for fifth for the bulk of the next three hours.

12.45: Safety Cars out for a fire - the #99 XL Ferrari is burning merrily at the pits end of the Porsche Curves. Will this juggle the gaps in the battle for fifth?

Yes, in a mannner of speaking. The #11 Panoz pitted, the #13 Courage took fifth place, the LMP 01 is almost right behind, while the Dome is almost four minutes behind - but the eventual gap will depend on how and where the Safety Cars pull off.

Three hours to go...

 

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