Le Mans 24 Hours 2024 – One Quarter Report (3)

Rain returned in force, though not universally around the course, for the second time during the first six hours. Eight cars were on the overall lead lap up until the fifth hour, which has gradually evolved into a classic Ferrari vs. Porsche struggle—not for the first time in sports car racing history. But there are far more than supporting players behind them.

The No. 51 Ferrari of Antonio Giovinazzi asserted its place ahead of the Laurens Vanthoor Porsche (No. 6) and the Sebastien Bourdais Cadillac (No. 3) on the opening lap.

Nicklas Nielsen soon powered through to second and then his No. 50 Ferrari swung past his teammate, holding a Ferrari 1-2 heading towards the first round of stops.

The No. 9 Proton Competition Oreca of Bent Viscaal made a dramatic leap to head the LM P2 class field, as there was a fair amount of elbow banging within the throaty Gibson V8 clique. He was followed by Mathias Beche in the No. 50 Panis Racing entry, which also led the Pro-Am sub-category. Oliver Jarvis was next up in the early going with the No. 23 United Autosports Oreca.

Frederik Schandorff in the No. 70 Inception Racing McLaren was the most unmolested of the three class pole starters, pulling out a strong lead in GT3. The LM P2 class was a bit scrambled because of several early pit callers, most notably the No. 47 Cool Racing of Matthew Belll which had to replace a punctured radiator. It continued but well down the order.

Nearly the entire Hypercar field made their first scheduled stop en masse as did the GT3 class. That somewhat scrambled the actual order but not the closeness of the contest. There was concern about the No. 50 Ferrari as it was leaving a sheen of oil. While it did not seem to be slowed, the drivers behind were complaining. The first real chink among the leaders came at about the hour mark when smoke appeared in the cockpit of the No. 99 Proton Porsche 963 and it had problems with the door assembly.

The first rain came about 90 minutes in, hitting hardest in the old Maison Blanche section. That period featured the first lead by the No. 6 Penske Porsche with the two Toyotas moving up the order. Most teams took on wet rubber but one of the Corvettes and an AF Corse Ferrari were caught out and suffered mild spins. A short time later the No. 54 Ferrari of Thomas Flohr hit hard into the barriers and became the first retirement.

Robin Frijns had a big spin on his own with the No. 20 BMW Hypercar. It was the start of a very bad afternoon and evening for the Bavarian marque’s hypercars. It was even worse at Alpine. Ferdinand Hapsburg went straight off, his engine having royally expired. About an hour later the other one, No. 36, pulled into the garage with a similar problem.

Just to show that you should never believe me, the much heralded Ben Keating made a mistake and beached the No. 23 United Autosports P2. They eventually continued but the gravel sucked into the interior damaged several components.

The third hour featured the first semi-settling down with the order in front No. 83 (AF Corse Hypercar Ferrari—Ex-F1 man Robert Kubica doing multiple stints). The No. 5 Penske Porsche rose to become the highest placed of the 963s and the No. 8 Toyota Gazoo was an almost anonymous third place.

Two GT3s, the United Autosports McLaren and the No. 60 Iron Lynx Lamborghini of Claudio Schiavoni, had spins and made subsequent repair stops The Mustang challenge frayed when Zach Robichon brought the No. 77 Proton entry in with a broken steering rack. The No. 99 Porsche again pulled into the garage, now with a broken splitter. Another early powerhouse, Sebastien Bourdais (No. 3 Cadillac) had a big off course excursion exiting the pits on cold tyres. The No. 20 BMW had chronic problems with vibration issues and loose bodywork. The No. 70 McLaren’s fine run ended with an overheating issue.

Another brief shower came at the six hour mark. Until that point the track was generally green apart from slow zones to attend to the various stopped cars. There were four brief full course yellows called to manage stranded cars and clear debris. Cumulatively these interruptions amounted to less than a lap of neutralization.

This pattern ended with the first significant incident coming later in the sixth hour when the long delayed No. 15 BMW of Dries Vanthoor had a huge hit with the overall leading Ferrari of Kubica. The 499 was unfazed but the M Hybrid V8 was rather askew and the accident scrambled the safety cars for the first time.

While not really a race of attrition (only three cars are officially retired, plus 3-4 likely to follow suit), there have been enough travails among the leaders to reduce the number of cars on the respective class lead laps. Hypercar and overall has the No. 83 Ferrari (Kubica) first, the No. 5 Porsche (Fred Makowiecki) next, and then Ryo Hirakawa in the No. 8 Toyota.

The featured LM P2 leaders are Cool Racing (No. 37, Malthe Jakobsen), United Autosports (No. 22, Bijoy Garg) and No. 10 Vector Racing (Stephane Richelmi). The two LM P2 Pro-Am sub-class leaders are a tad further back with Louis Deletraz (No. 14 AO by TF) just clear of Francois Perrodo in the No. 183 AF Corse Oreca.

The GT3 fight is living up to its billing as an inter-marque battle. The No. 92 Manthey Porsche (Joel Sturm) narrowly leads the No. 46 BMW of Ahmad Al Harthy, while all the pundits are pleasantly surprised with a good third place by Jack Hawksworth in the No. 37 ASP Lexus. There is only a narrow gap to the next batch of GT3s, headed by Michelle Gatting in the No. 85 Iron Dames Lamborghini. The pattern of no two of the same marque among the leaders continues with Larry ten Voorde fifth in the JMW Ferrari, then Dennis Olsen in the best of the Mustangs (No. 88) and finally James Cottingham on the recovering United McLaren. Only Aston Martin (9th) and Corvette (15th ) are languishing.

By Janos Wimpffen

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