72nd Le Mans 24 Hours - Hours 7, 8 & 9

As hour seven begins, Rob Barff is hunting down the third placed #18 Pescarolo of Treluyer. A routine stop and a change of driver to Ayari allows the Dallara within two minutes of the French car

Larbre news: The Panoz is a retirement having broken down at Arnage. It was an unspecified mechanical problem.

The 69 Ferrari had a quick stop to replace the throttle cable.

And Courage…
The 31 factory Courage lost a lot of time from an impressive early lead with gearbox troubles. It is now three laps down on the class leader, Clint’s stars and stripes-emblazoned Lola B2K / 40 Judd, but lapping six seconds faster, even without Gounon at the helm. Such is the paucity of the class that it is in second place anyway, despite spending an hour out of the six so far in the pits, with Epsilon’s example having now been stationary in its pit garage for over 40 minutes, with a starter motor change underway.

A puncture for the #15 Dome brings Lammers into the pit: slick work by the RfH crew has the flying Dutchman back out with the minimum delay, now 18th.

(Stating the bl**ding obvious mode on) It is of course getting dark and the public roads that form the majority of the circuit have been closed for absolutely ages. Lorries bound for Tours can expect substantial delays.(Stating the bl**ding obvious mode off)

The #17 Pescarolo rejoins after a 14 minute stop to replace an alternator belt, but has an excursion into the gravel on its out lap. This allows the Zytek back into the top ten, before Shimoda makes his routine pitstop and hands over to Andy Wallace.

22:45: There’s a safety car out on the circuit as the TV feed picks up a Corvette (#63 with Fellows at the wheel), a rear left puncture just after the crest on the Mulsanne pitching Ron Fellows into a big old spin and collecting the barrier on the Mulsanne. The car rejoins but with substantial damage to the rear and left hand side of #63. Paul Belmondo in the #37 Courage is next on the scene, and meets yellow flags and a thick dust cloud totally obscuring his vision. He brakes and is rammed from behind. The C65 makes it back around to the pits but a Belmondo engineer confirms that the car has impacted the barriers, punching the front right hand corner through the tub. The car will be retired immediately.

#63 pits and the Safety car is withdrawn almost immediately.

One car which suffered from the brief safety car period was the Rollcentre Dallara. It has lost almost 40 seconds to the Pescarolo ahead.

The Larbre Ferrari 550 cruises quietly into the pits and is steered right into its garage (throttle cable) and rejoins. Darren Turner meanwhile has had a trip into the gravel at the Dunlop Chicane (having spun after seeing an oil flag): he rejoins, but some of his good work in recovering lost ground has been wiped away.

Ollie Gavin explains to Radio Le Mans that the seemingly high number of punctures are mainly due to the famously sharp Le Mans gravel.

First four (at 23.25):
88, 5, 18, 6 (Barff catching Ayari, currently 2 mins 16 behind)
Next two:
64, 66 (1 min 54 apart, Enge at the wheel of 66)
Next five:
2, 9, 4, 22, 16 (each a lap apart, only the Taurus Lola in the middle not delayed by a significant event.
the no 90 GT leader (a lap or so ahead of Ortelli and friends, with 15, 17 and 61 separating them).

Midnight, eight hours into the race:
The untroubled and almost untroubled Audis at the front are still a lap aprt. They could stay like this until the end of the race.

Rob Barff is 3min 25 behind Comas in the 18 Pescarolo, this battle almost a repeat of Monza. Short's team is doing its stuff again, in the third race for the Dallara in Rollcentre / X Markets colours.

The top two GTS cars are separated by 2 mins 16 secs, while JJ lehto is within a lap of catching them for fifth place. The real gap between 64 and 66 is more like a minute or so, as Beretta pits just after the hour.

Larbre's 550 has just had a stuck throttle, twice, and drops down to the bottom of the top 20.

After 8 Hours
88 125 laps
5 124 laps
18 121 laps
6 -3min 25
64 117 laps
66 -2min 16
2 116 laps
9 115 laps
22 113 laps
16 112 laps
4 -3min 20
17 11 laps
90 110 laps
15 -5 secs
61 -1min 42
85 109 laps
65 -2min 08
83 108 laps
69 -49s
70 106 laps
72 105 laps
87 105 laps.

The Petersen / White Lightning Porsche has had a suspicion of a puncture (for Patrick Long), but it was rubber build-up, and Sascha Maassen had a big wiggle on the oil / water at Porsche Curves, but apart from that, no problems at all for the GT class leader. Interesting aside: Michael Petersen and girlfriend Jodi Shamaley made 'Rice Krispie treat' for the whole team, and apparently they were very tasty.

Paul Slinger’s Pit Lane Update (in association with Michael Petersen's Rice Krispie treats)
Rob Barff is battling through his quadruple stint and has been setting some great times, including the car’s best so far of 3:41.217. On the latest stop Rob lost a minute or so when the rear bodywork was changed. Martin Short explained that “the ACO had warned us of intermittent rear light failures, caused by my puncture taking some wiring out. We also changed the nose to mid-downforce – the gurneys were working and a definite improvement so hopefully this is even better. We haven’t heard from him yet though so we don’t know.”
Short took over soon after midnight.

Morgan: The car has been stopped for a considerable time near Indianapolis, reportedly out of fuel. Steve Hyde is puzzled though: “The car didn’t run long enough to be out of fuel but there is none in the engine – there are two fuel pumps on-board, so we don’t know what is going on. Neil has a tool kit and radio contact with the crew so he is still working away. The longer it goes on though, the worse it is looking.” Adam Sharpe was looking very glum indeed..... but the car didn't do a Biela, and did make it back to the pits.

Approaching 01.00, nine hours into the race, and JJ Lehto has split the GTS leaders, and sets the fastest lap of the race, a 3:36.060. This compares very well with Johnny Herbert's 3;35.529 in the second placed bentley last year, and is faster than the winning Bentley's best.

The no 15 RFH Dome is in trouble again: Chris Dyson shakes his head as the Judd refuses to fire up after a pit visit for fuel and tyres.

Lehto passes Beretta for fifth place at 00.55, so we have three Audis in the top five, with the fourth in 27th place24 laps behind Jamie Davies in the lead.

In the GTS wars, Enge is inching slightly close to the 64 Corvette, the 2 mins 16 interval of an hour ago down to 2 mins 11: they're beautifully matched.

Drama moments after 01.00... Magnussen and Davies collide at the first part of the Ford Chicane. Davies was looking up the inside, Magnussen didn't sem to see him (almost alongside). The Corvette backs into the wall, and is dragged out... Davies pits a lap later, by which time the Corvette is still being pulled out, so the Ferrari of Enge takes the class lead. Mags has to complete a full lap with some rear damage, losing more time to Enge.

Positions At 9 Hours - 141 laps
88, 5, 18, 6, 2, 64, 66, 9, 22, 16, 17, 4, 90, 61, 65, 85, 83, 69, 15, 77, 87.

LMP2 Positions:
24th 32 Intersport Lola 119 laps
26th 31 Courage 118 laps
34th Epsilon Courage 111 laps
40th 24 WR 74 laps
42nd 36 WR 53 laps... so five allegedly still running, just the Belmondo C65 out with accident damage.


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