Ferrari’s James Calado led Toyota’s Sebastien Buemi by 4s at the 12-hour mark, as the race enjoyed its most settled phase since the wild opening and jaw-dropping drama of the subsequent hours.
Calado took the lead during a pitstop cycle after he’d closed on Buemi, who took new tyres when the Ferrari was double-stinting. The #8 Toyota is also due a 5s penalty for a pitstop infringement.
Earlier, Peugeot’s Nico Muller led the race to green in a restart just after the nine-hour mark in the #94 9X8, but Sebastien Bourdais muscled his way past him at the Dunlop Chicane to get back onto the lead lap in his #3 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac.
Toyota’s Ryo Hirakawa also passed Muller to take the race lead in the #8 GR010, ahead of the Ferraris of polewinner Antonio Fuoco and Alessandro Pier Guidi, who switched places after a surprisingly elbows-out battle between them.
Muller stayed out for multiple stints, leading again until being passed by Sebastien Buemi in the #8 just before 2:30am local time and Calado also passed him for second in the #51 Ferrari.
The #94 Peugeot was about to be delayed by a 5s penalty for a pitstop infringement when Gustavo Menezes, who had just taken over from Muller, got onto the damp and gravel at the first Mulsanne Chicane and smacked the tyrewall, wrecking the nose section. That led to a painfully slow return to the pits, losing eight laps and dropping it outside the top 10 overall.
Two other Hypercars suffered major delays during this phase of the race: the #5 Porsche pitted for repairs due to a water leak, and the #50 Ferrari went into the garage just before hour 11, also with an energy recovery system fluid leak.
After an epic start to his stint, Bourdais ended with a whimper when an uncooperative LMP2 car shoved him into a spin at the Ford Chicane. That dropped the #3 car back to fifth, ahead of the #93 Peugeot.
#28 Jota Oreca 07 – Gibson of David Heinemeier Hansson, Oliver Rasmussen, Pietro Fittipaldi
Photo by: Rainier Ehrhardt
In LMP2 the #34 Inter Europol Competition of Jakub Smiechowski dueled hard with Neel Jani in the #30 Duqueine Team entry in this phase of the race. Jani drove some inspired stints to lead the Panis Racing entry of Job van Uitert, Cool Racing’s Reshad de Gerus and Louis Deletraz (WRT), as the #34 fell back to fifth in class.
The second Inter Europol, the #32, was shunted by Jan Magnussen at the first Mulsanne chicane. Another ex-F1 driver, Daniil Kvyat, suffered a huge shunt in the Porsche Curves in the #63 Prema LMP2 car and went no further.
In GTE Am, the battle for the lead is flipping between the pitstop cycles between the #85 Iron Dames Porsche 911, the #56 Project 1 – AO Porsche 911 and the ORT by TF Aston Martin.
The Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR Garage 56 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 runs 34th overall in the hands of Mike Rockenfeller in its continued quest to overhaul the GTE Am field.