72nd Le Mans 24 Hours - Hours 19, 20, 21

We are struggling - both to find the energy to write lucidly, and to find something exciting to write about.

We learn that the no 16 RfH Dome has had its fifth gear cluster replacement, which is in stark contrast to the way the drivers in the lead car last year looked after their gears for 24 hours. The Firman / Wilson car has dropped behind the GT class leader, which is still the Freisinger Porsche, after the two problems that hit the Petersen car.

'These F1 guys,' you could think to yourself. Tom Kristensen and Guy Smith are grinding out some blindingly quick laps, even at this stage, but it is stalemate again at the front. Stalemate in GTS too.

And the stalemate continues, apart from the fact that the 17 Pescarolo Judd is retired from the race: some might argue that this is a form of justice.

“I was the faster car, he should have got out of the way.”

That’s what Sebastien Bourdais told Speed Channel about the contact he had with the Rollcentre Racing Dallara in the Dunlop Curves, an incident which almost certainly led directly to the later accident which left the Dallara seriously damaged, Martin Short in the medical centre and Rollcentre Racing’s dreams of a good finish shattered.

Whether or not Bourdais was faster does not excuse contact:, a word of remorse with regard to the incident would surely have been more appropriate than the words the Frenchman actually used.

The facts are simple – Short was pushing on in defence of fourth place, while Bourdais was on a recovery drive some seven laps adrift. Immediately behind him at the time of the incident was the similarly recovering #8 Audi R8.

If Bourdais really believed his stance was correct then why did he not allow the clearly quicker Audi by?

“Because he’s a racing driver,” was the response offered by several when this debating point was fielded.

The response implies that from a racing driver’s perspective, either deliberate contact is justifiable or that it is acceptable to divorce yourself from the consequences of your actions, deliberate or otherwise, so long as you have a greater professional standing than the victim. Surely there cannot be widespread acceptance of either.

It is of course particularly disappointing that a driver fielded by a cash strapped French privateer with a huge crowd following was responsible for the removal from the race of a similar undertaking from the UK.

Joao Barbosa on the accident:
“I haven’t seen the (first) accident where the car finished in the gravel, but sometimes there is unavoidable contact, particularly with so much traffic and slower cars. Every time I am on the track I try to make room for a faster car that is coming through, by lifting off a little or braking earlier. There is no point in racing them when it is not for position in a race that is this long.”

On the car coming into the race:
“I knew we could do well here. The car is well developed and we know plenty about what the tyres can do too. Sebring proved our pace and we knew we could do it again here too.”

On the Dallara's performance in the race:
“We had some understeer problems from the start and the car was a little slower than we’d have liked as a result. Our lap times suffered a little. At one of the pit stops we made a change at the front of the car and after that it was really nice. I could set quicker times and the car was just fantastic.”

On Rollcentre Racing:
“The team is wonderful. Everyone gets on very well together, it is like a family and everyone wants to do well. For a team new to a car like the Dallara their work has been fantastic. Everybody works incredibly hard.”

On the car after the race:
“The car is a mess. Martin tells me there is a hole in the tub where the wishbone came through and hurt his leg. Thankfully there is a second car but there will be a lot of work in the next few weeks if we are going to make the Nurburgring.”

At 11.40, four hours 20 minutes from the end, the 66 Care Racing Ferrari has a puncture, left front, near the start of the lap. Tomas Enge crawls home, but unusually, the punctured tyre (and wheel) don't rotate. Enge grinds his way round to the pit, and the GTS class leader is pulled into the garage, for some fairly lengthy work. A five lap lead suddenly doesn't seem very safe at all. Olivier Beretta immediately cuts his times from 3:57 to 3:56, then 55... as he knocks the laps off one by one.

To add to the drama, just when we didn't think we were due any, Jamie Davies spins at the Dunlop Chicane, from a position right behind Kristensen (who is exactly a lap ahead).

Then Thomas Erdos is spotted going very slowly in the RML Lola B160, just as TK pits and changes to Dindo Capello.

At midday, Beretta knocks off the last lap to pull Corvette level - and pits, just as the 66 Ferrari is rolled out of its garage... and they leave the pits together, Magnussen a few seconds ahead of Menu. Game on.

And it's a game that Magnussen looks to have upper hand in, he draws away from the 550 steadily.

Fiona Miller tells us that the cause of the 550's woes was a seized wheel bearing, which locked he wheel solid. The tyre damage was then inevitable and there is damage to the front splitter too, caused by the car's (necessarily) rather abrasive return to the pits.

Britpack update -

Ian Dawson on the No 4 Taurus Lola Judd - "She's run beautifully all day, no problems at all. Let's see if we can bring it home. We've just got a clutch problem right now which means we'll struggle to start the car from the pits. But once it's going it's fine."

Dawson's words are brought into sharp focus immediately as Didier Andre pits, struggles to restart, grinds to a halt at the pit exit and rolls back down into the pit lane - the car is put into the garage for attention.

Christian Vann - No 4 Lola "Of course we always knew we couldn't compete on pace but we also knew that if we could put together a reliable run we could finish well up. We've still got to look after the car for a while yet though."

Bob Berridge - No 89 Chamberlain Synergy TVR - "I've spent every minute that I've not been in the car on the pit wall. My nerves won't stand it."

Michael Caine - 89 TVR - "We've had problems throughout the race with pick up on the tyres, other than that all we've had on 89 is a holed rad and a broken exhaust. The car is great though."

David Dowse - TM Morgan Works team - "We've had just a couple of sily problems since Neil's adventure yesterday, a trhrottle cable and a holed rad from a bit of kerb hopping. We've passed 8:30am though which is when the car retired in 2002 - I was trying not to look at my watch around then."

The RML MG Lola is in trouble again, Thomas Erdos reports that it may be a piston but the team is checking - It's been a very long Le Mans for Ray Mallock's crew.n

The lead car pits - Dindo Capello aboard and as he pulls away a small fire erupts around the fuel filler - Capello looks to make a hasty exit and then thinks better of it - the fire is extinguished immediately, the car pulled back the few metres to the pit and a quick check is made before despatching Capello back on track, still ahead but in a race to the finish, every little helps.

Pierre Kaffer is forced into a grassy excursion in the No 8 Audi as he stumbles over Rick Sutherland in the Intersport Lola B2K/40 Judd.

Another class lead changes as the 85 Freisinger car hits oil feed problems. The Petersen etc Porsche retakes the lead it lost hours ago.

The Cirtek Ferrari 360 is in the gravel at the entrance to the Porsche Curves with Hugenholtz at the wheel.

 

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