The 71st Le Mans 24 Hours
Hours 4- 6

Three hours 40 minutes: the Safety Cars (three) are out for the first time, and there seems to be fluid on the track at the first right hand kink between Mulsanne and Indianapolis.

The last 40 minutes have been more of the same: Bentleys quicker, stopping at 13 laps, Audis doing 15 laps stints. The significant change among the top 900 cars is the #16 slipping down the order, reason unknown at the moment - except that it is in its garage. Ah, it won't fire up.

The #7 managed to make the break when its Safety Car pulled off, the #8 Bentley still stuck behind its car for another minute or so. Marco Werner was stuck behind the third Corvette, so the gaps between the top three are now two minutes then one minute. A pitstop for Mark Blundell in #8 Bentley put Werner less than five seconds behind the Bentley just after the hour.

Anthony Davidson presses on in the #80 Ferrari posting the car’s fastest lap of the race at 10 minutes past the hour. A long pitstop though at 19:15 drops the car behind the Alphand 550.

The screens show #60 as travelling slowly – a surprise as there is no #60 in the race!!

At 19:30 the GTS leading #88 Ferrari is in 11th place overall.

Johnny Mowlem is forced into the pit lane by a very pushy #16 RfH Dome – he will not be a happy bunny!

Trouble for the GT class leading #93 Alex Job Porsche, a long (4-5 minute) stop to try to repair a malfunctioning gearshift, and 2002 GT champion Kevin Buckler takes the class lead in the #81 Racers Group Porsche. #93 drops behind the #77 Taisan 911 into third place but then Buckler pits too, another long one (2 minutes plus) putting the Japanese 911 into the class lead at 19:22.

Further back Marc Lieb is hunting down the #95 Ferrari, by far the fastest GT car at present with a 4:13
By 19:30 Lieb is around 10 seconds behind Mowlem and closing fast.

The #77 Porsche pits routinely but gives up the lead to the Racers Group 911, Lucas Luhr in the Alex Job car is just 13 seconds behind despite a still less than perfect gearshift - and all of a sudden we have a cracking GT class race on our hands again.

The #91 TVR disappears from the timing screens, official retirement after a valiant attempt by Richard Stanton to get the car back to the pits.

That Alex Job / Petersen gearshift problem seems to have resurfaced, the car dropping back again after a three minute stop, the problem could well have been sorted ou this time though as Luhr gets his times back into the 4:14s after the safety car is withdrawn.

Overall, at Four Hours
#7 62 laps
#8 -2m14s
#5 -3m16s
#6 61 laps
#15 60 laps

#29 16th
#27 25th
#24 29th
#25 36th
#23 45th
#31 46th

#88 11th position overall 56 laps
#80 13th overall +3:06
#72 15th overall 55 laps
#53 17th overall + 1 min

#81 20th overall 53 Laps
#93 22nd overall -1:36
#77 23rd overall -26 seconds
#95 27th overall 52 laps

Hour 5

Did you expect any change in the 900 / GTP class? Smith and Blundell are at the wheel of the Bentleys, which apart from the Brabham headrest coming loose, have performed immaculately. So have the surviving Audis.

Seiji Ara took over the Goh Audi at 20.40 for his first turn at the wheel, and John Bosch did the same in the #15 RfH Dome. #5 has had its nose changed. These five are dominating the top group. Janos will provide an overall view at the end of this hourly report. The Audis, on new rubber, Pirro having his first run in the Champion car, are now both performing at more or less Bentley pace.

The Bucknum Pilbeam is stopped out on the track, near the end of the fifth hour.

Frank Biela, on that retirement: “I’m just so upset for the team. The reserve light came on and the team told me to pit the next lap. But coming out of the Porsche Corners, a Panoz was in front of me and also through the fast Esses.

“I was trying to keep my momentum and attempted to pass him on the left side but I was surprised by his acceleration and found myself baulked as the Panoz was beside me and I couldn’t turn across to the pit-lane which meant I had to start another lap.

“I knew it would be almost impossible to get around and the car started ‘coughing’. I had to park it and then I tried to get it back to the pits using the starter but it was impossible. I’m devastated.”

The delayed #50 Corvette has now found its way by the lead battle in GT into the top 20 at 20:05 and just a minute or so behind the Konrad Saleen , 6th in GTS. By the top of the hour the gap to the Saleen is down to just 20 seconds.

A problem (unknown at present) for the #72 Luc Alphand Ferrari allows the #53 Corvette back up to third in class, 14th overall.

20:40 and Kelvin Burt in the #80 550 inherits the GTS lead as Jamie Davies hits trouble in the #88 Ferrari, a top up of coolant apparently required. A two minute pitstop and Davies returns to the fray 20 seconds behind his team mate. Freon, now behind the wheel of the #53 Vette is closing in on the LMP900 Durango for 14th place overall as he continues to pressurise the Prodrive duo ahead.

The problem for the #93 AJR Porsche evidently was cured at the second time of asking, Lucas Luhr now lapping very rapidly and closing the gap to Timo Bernhard in the class leading Racers Group car 90 seconds ahead at 20:15.

Marc Lieb is still closing in on Mowlem, the Orbit car now fully back up to speed and lapping at a similar pace to Luhr .

20:35 and it’s the Racers Group turn for a problem, Timo Bernhard reporting a slipping clutch. The team are opting for a change of clutch which will drop the car out of the battle for the lead - for now.

Marc Lieb is in a position to take full advantage, the young German having passed Mowlem for fourth in class now grabs third as a result of the Racers Group’s misfortune.

The JMB Ferrari 360 pits out of sequence for attention to a loose rear diffuser allowing Mike Jordan in the #92 TVR to draw much closer, now just 12 seconds behind the Ferrari in a growing battle for 6th in class. The Ferrari though has the legs on the TVR and the gap grows to 20 seconds by the top of the hour.

20:55 and the Orbit car pits and goes into the garage, Mowlem will grab back the fourth in class by the top of the hour. It’s a left front radiator change for the #87 car (10-11 minutes).

Overall, at Five Hours
#8 -1 lap (will sort itself out when #7 pits)

#29 19th
#27 20th
#24 26th
#26 27th
#25 34th
#23 45th (Brian Willman is working on it, out on the track)
#31 46th

#80 12th overall 71 Laps
#88 13th overall -20 seconds
#53 15th overall - 1 Lap
#72 16th overall -1 Lap

#93 22nd overall 67laps
#77 23rd overall -1:30
#95 25th overall -1 lap
#83 28th overall -2 laps

One of the typical patterns of a long race is now apparent. The top ten (eleven, actually) contains the principal class while the next class down occupies the following spots. However, that is GTS, not LMP 675, as the small sports-racers are no longer a factor.

Another surprise has been that tire consumption has not been the problem that one would anticipate given the high temperatures. This can be attributed to a combination of good planning by most teams and tire manufacturers. A notable exception has been the Yokohama teams.

Gunnar Jeannette is having a good run in the Panoz, making it towards the back of the leading group of six cars. Really, the top nine are going well and this includes the Bentleys, two Audis, the lead Dome, both Panoz and the no. 18 Courage. The biggest under-achiever in the top class has been the Dome-Mugen. The Durango has been the biggest plus and the Nasamax and Norma entries have been non-factors. The Riley & Scott is still recovering from damaging on course action.

The 675 class is mostly ill; the Pilbeam is effectively out with non-stop gearbox and oil leak problems, with the other JPX engined car having similar problems. The usual litany of bodywork troubles has slowed the WRs while bad electrics have doomed the DBA. The no. 29 Reynard-Lehman continues with a clean run. The Intersport Lola is on its tail though.

Even a slightly long stop by the leading no. 80 Ferrari has had little effect on the GTS contest. The 550s’ slightly better fuel economy and quicker straight line speed is making it difficult for the Corvettes to move forward. Although the Alphand Ferrari has slipped to fourth in class, 'it' should be commended for a fine run. One Saleen (Konrad) and one Viper (Larbre) continue to mix it up with the leading GTS cars and a podium spot for the old ones is no longer a remote possibility.

The laws of probability are now working against the Racer’s Group as a badly slipping clutch has effectively put them out of the running for a repeat class victory. The Job Porsche continues after gear linkge trouble, and leads, but apart from Taisan, the other 996s have hit turbulence, leaving a happy but surprised Risi Ferrari #95 knocking on the door of the Porscches.

It now appears that among the cars still effectively running, only Nicolas Minassian in the no. 18 Courage has yet to drive in anger.

Hour 6

The 675 Courage is having a snapped timing chain changed, hence its huge delay. Duncan dayton took the 675 class lead, when the del Bello Reynard made a long stop.

The Durango continues to surprise us, in 14th place, behind the two Veloqx-Prodrive Ferraris. At 21.50, ten minutes before the quarter-of-the-race mark, Guy Smith starts a triple stint, on the same tyres.

It's getting dark now, it hasn't rained, and the top six doesn't look like changing bar mishaps - at the moment. Full rundown to be posted as soon as we have the ACO positions. Prototypes occupy the first 11 places, and the first nine have got this far without significant problems. Tenth and eleventh are the Riley & Scott and the brake-delayed #17 Pescarolo Courage.

Spoke too soon, the eighth placed #13 Courage Judd is on pitlane - having been pushed back to its stall. But it fires up, and Cochet is on his way.

The Intersport Lola is a lap ahead of the Reynard, which is two ahead of the DBA. The WRs are two and three laps begind the Nielsen car.

Kelvin Burt brings the class leading #88 Ferrari in for a routine stop early in the hour, and driver change (to Darren Turner) which hands the lead back to the #80 550. Turner gets right down to business posting the fastest GTS lap of the race so far for #80 (3:59.266) the gap between the two Veloqx cars is 77 seconds until the #80 car pits and Peter Kox takes over. He retains the class lead, Darren Turner just 10 seconds behind in #80

Oliver Gavin finally takes the #50 Corvette into 5th place in GTO as the Konrad Saleen makes a lengthy pit stop, slightly lengthier that is than the longish stop that Corvette itself had just made!

Policand is back into the #72 Luc Alphand Ferrari and is immediately up to speed and in pursuit of the #53 Corvette.

At the head of the class the gap shrank to four seconds before Turner made his scheduled stop. Turner struggled to get the V12 to fire but rejoined after a few seconds delay with 10pm just five minutes away.

Darkness is rapidly falling, it’s a very steamy evening indeed, the cooler air of the late evening will be a blessed relief to the drivers.

The Orbit Porsche rejoins after a 10 minute stop to replace the holed left hand radiator. Leo Hindery rejoins in 32nd place seventh in class.

The Alex Job Racing Porsche now leads the class again, the problems of its main competitors more than cancelling out the delay for the gear linkage for #93.

David Terrien in the JMB Ferrari takes fourth in class as David Shep makes a routine stop in the Seikel Porsche.

The Spyker crawls into pitlane after a very slow lap indeed (approximately 30 minutes). Tom Coronel gets out and starts to push the car towards the line beyond which his pitcrew can offer assistance. Very sadly for the popular Dutch coupe, Coronel is told by the marshals that he is not allowed to psh the car any further, even though he is within sight of his crew.

The surviving #92 TVR is in for a lengthy stop, apparently to change the differential.

Robin Liddell is storming on from way back in the #78 PK Sport Porsche, only Maassen is quicker in the class as 10 pm and 25% distance looms.

The night has yet to bring much needed coolness and the predicted showers have stayed away, although there is a light cloud cover. The crowd as largely gone away, but it was a perturbing fact that the afternoon spectator count did not appear to be huge by usual Le Mans standards.


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