The 71st Le Mans 24 Hours
Hours 7- 9

The remorseless twin turbo V8s - 3.6 or 4.0 capacity - continue on their way at the front. The Goh Audi had a slight delay for new rear bodywork, after a moment at the Ford Chicane for Ara.

Near the end of the seventh hour, the #31 675 Courage C65 returned to the race to complete its - 18th lap. Fortunately for Yves Courage, his #13 was still running impeccably in eighth overall - although it has dropped one place to the #18 Pescarolo Courage.

The Team NASAMAX Reynard is now pounding along, stopping for bio-ethanol every eight or nine laps, and about to move up throuh the forties, running steadily and well.

So it's more or less the same at the front after seven hours: Bentley, Bentley, Champion Audi, Goh Audi. Whatever we thought about the Bentleys and their prospects, they haven't hit a problem yet, and they do have the pace to beat the Audis.

There's only a lap or so between the top three in 675....the Reynard leads, Intersport a lap down, DBA another lap down. Both WRs are still in touch: the C65 is rolling again, the Pilbeam - that's right, just the Pilbeam - is the only one of the seven to have retired.

The Prodrive duo continue to circulate in fairly close formation, with Fellows in the chasing #53 Corvette matching their pace. That is until the hour begins to draw to a close when the 550s turn up the wick turning in laps in the 3:58s. The Corvette cannot live with the Ferraris on pace just now.

The #50 Corvette though in the hands of Gavin is steadily catching the Luc Alphand 550, the deficit now less than a lap.

The #92 TVR rejoins at 22:05 after a diff change which took just over 30 minutes.

The Spyker has reached its pit after all. Tom Coronel began to lose drive at the Dunlop esses and the car struggled around until the Porsche Curves, where the drivetrain gave way altogether. Luckily for Coronel it's mostly downhill from there. The team are busy changing the gearbox.

Liddell in the PK Porsche continues to charge, picking up places (now up to 33rd overall 8th in class) and chasing the #75 Perspective Porsche ahead. He passes Ian Khan as the hour draws to a close.

The Racers Group rejoin after a very lengthy (clutch change) stop, now down in 41st position and more than 20 laps off the lead.

Another much delayed car, the #94 Risi Ferrari spins into the gravel at Dunlop but rejoins - no further harm apparently done.

Prototypes At 7 Hours
#7, #8, #6, #5, #15, #11, #18, #12, #4, #13. #17.

18th #29 Reynard
19th #27 MG-Lola
24th #26 DBA
28th #24 WR
31st #25 WR

#88 100 laps
#80 100 laps -2 mins
#53 99 laps
#72 98 laps

#93 95 laps
#77 94 laps
#95 93 laps
#70 92 laps

The official attrition rate is quite low as only the British Audi, Pagani, and TVR have retired, although the Courage-JPX has been stationary for hours. They continue to work on its motor and David Hallyday triumphantly returned to the circuit at the end of the hour. Similarly, the Pilbeam has been doing the odd lap every hour or so. A bit of trivia about Hallyday’s drive - with his turn all of the listed drivers have had a stint apart from the early retirements.

Others among the walking wounded are the Spyker (moving again), the Risi Ferrari, lapping uncompetitively, the Racer’s Group Porsche (among the quickest), the XL Ferrari (brutally slow), the Norma (slower than most GTs), the T2M Porsche (never has done much), the Scorp Viper (reasonable run [but goes off in response to my praise]), Konrad Saleen (no longer making much headway), the Perspective Porsche (very inconsistent lappery), and the PK Porsche (steady, but no longer really moving up). The hour ends with the no. 70 JMB Ferrari taking an excursion.

Hour 8

Guy Smith, after completing his triple stint (on the same set of tyres):"The temperature in the car was not as bad as I expected - especially during three consecutive stints. My (triple) stint included the transition from daylight to dark. Either is fine, but you have to be especially alert in the half-light of dusk."

Time spent in the pits (range of leading cars, approaching eight hours)

#4 R&S 18mins 27 secs
#5 Goh Audi 9:58
#6 Champion Audi 10:18
#7 Bentley 8:48
#8 Bentley 9:52
#9 Dome 1 hour 07 mins
#11 Panoz 11:44
#12 Panoz 16:27
#13 Courage 12:18
#14 NASAMAX 1 hour 56 mins
#15 Dome 12:43
#16 Dome 48:02

The best contest during the hour was for 18th place, and first in 675 - between the #29 Reynard, the #27 MG-Lola, the #26 DBA and...the recovering #16 RfH Dome. The Reynard was the slowest of the group, the fast 675s matching the #16 Dome, until...the DBA pitted, for 15 minutes, at 23.40. The MG-Lola is losing time as we pass midnight....and drops behind the DBA.

Among the top ten, the #18 Pescarolo Courage has dropped a couple of places, Gounon has moved up a place, the R&S has moved up two...and the top five are static...Bentley, Bentley, Audi, Audi, Dome.

Johnny Herbert’s long steady stint has lowered the margin between the two Bentleys for 35 seconds, with little challenge (yet) from Capello. The Audis have now dropped two laps down.

The middle of the GTS class has had trouble. Both of the Saleens have been delayed, as has the regularly spinning Scorp Viper. On the other hand, the Alphand Ferrari continues running very well and is now slightly ahead of the second of the Corvettes (but lapping slower). The Ferraris continue to run perfectly, with Davidson in no. 80 gaining slightly on an unusually cautious Enge. Freon is third in class and fighting hard to hold station with the Maranellos.

The Norma left from a routine stop and was followed by a trail of oil approximately equivalent to the amount contained in the Ford’s crankcase. The crew got on the radio and the driver halted a mere 100 meters down the road from where the crew pushed it back directly into the garage.

While the Reynard continues to “lead” 675, the no. 31 Courage-JPX spun after only a few laps out on the circuit. The Durango should be in this class, where it would be a more honored leader.

The hour starts with some punctuation in the lead battle in GTS, Anthony Davidson having a trip across the gravel. He pits and the chasing Corvette takes advantage grabbing second until it pits routinely for a driver change, Franck Freon taking up the chase now 75 seconds behind Davidson and both of these a lap down now on Peter Kox in #88.

Davidson seems to have set something of a fashion in GTS – Marques into the gravel in the #68 Scorp Viper, possibly after contact with the #66 Konrad Saleen, which is also beached at the same location (Dunlop Bridge). On closer examination the Saleen is sporting a deranged right rear wheel. Both rejoin but the Saleen stops again soon afterwards at Tetre Rouge.

23:28 and the Graham Nash Saleen drives straight into the pit garage – a bad ten minutes for Saleen fans. Ten minutes later though and the big #64 car rejoins, with Pedro Chaves installed.

The Scorp Viper clearly enjoyed its spin at the Dunlop Bridge so much that it did exactly the same again just a matter of minutes later, a quick and gentle rotation and it was back on its way.

Peter Baron is pushing on in the recovering #87 Orbit car, gradually reeling in the metronomic Seikel 911 almost a lap ahead.

Robin Liddell hands over the PK Sport Porsche to Piers Masarati after an excellent stint dragging the ‘British’ 911 back into contention. But no, the team examine the car and wheel it into the garage, Mike Pickup explaining that the power steering had failed during the Scot's 15 lap stint. Liddell tells Radio Le Mans that the ‘fix’ will take around 15 minutes, but it seems to take rather longer.

The surviving TVR is reported as having stopped out on the circuit at 23:50.

Hour 9

Two important runners hit problems, reminding us that race positions are fragile. There was a puncture on Lammers’ Dome and the thus far perfect run hit a stumble. A somewhat troubled stop added to their woes and they lost a spot to the no. 11 Panoz.

The corn burning Reynard had another long stop, interrupting their gallant return. The Team Taisan Porsche lost a window, but very little time in repairing it.

The Bentley pair continue to lap well, both having nearly flawless stops. The Riley & Scott had its second off, incurring quite extensive damage at the first Mulsanne chicane. The no. 11 Panoz ran over some debris and Beretta crawled back in with an exploded tire. It appears that black carbon fiber from the R & S has effected some other cars, including the no. 16 Dome. Beretta had a very big moment controlling the #11 Panoz.

Another emerging pattern is that after hours of no retirements we’ve had a few abandonments and near-abandonments - eg. the Norma. Again, we’re far from over.

00:30 The #53 Vette is in the garage for what seems to be an alternator problem. Its enough to drop the car behind not only the Luc Alphand Ferrari (GTS is now a Ferrari 550 1,2,3 again) but also behind the #50 Corvette, now up into 16th position overall. The problem for #53 is traced finally to the pulley driving the oil pump and the repair is quickly effected, rejoining after a 20 minute stop, now three laps down on his team mate in fourth spot.

The Graham Nash Saleen has made a spirited recovery in the hands of Tommy Erdos, picking up a couple of places in the hour before a routine pit stop and a driver change to car owner Mike Newton. This car's early delays were caused by a failed throttle potentiometer....and then the replacemnt was faulty too. Another manufacturer cured the fault once and for all. "We're pacing ourselves," said Graham Nash.

The PK Sport stop eventually took around 45 minutes, Piers Masarati rejoining in 36th place.

Marc Lieb is making progress in the Orbit Porsche, catching the Seikel Porsche at around six seconds per lap.

The #92 TVR will shortly be an official retirement, the T400R's differential has failed out on the circuit. TVRs 2003 Le Mans attack is over. Although Michael Cotton thinks they're trying to get it back.

Another team on a recovery drive is The Racers Group, Jorg Bergmeister quickest in the class by some margin at the moment lapping in the 4:11s to Luhr’s 4:15s. The gap between the two is now 22 laps Orbit now sixth in GT. With the hour drawing to an end Lieb is less than a minute behind the Seikel Porsche of Tony Burgess and closing fast.

#88 129 laps
#80 128 laps
#72 126 laps
#50 125 laps

#93 121 Laps
#77 -4:10
#95 119 Laps
#70 118 Laps


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