The battle between Ferrari and Toyota continues as the 100th anniversary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans enters its final quarter.
At 10:00 local time, with six hours to go, the #51 Ferrari 499P battled through the night and into the morning, beating the #8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid.
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Sebastian Buemi moved his Toyota to the front at the start of the 13th hour before handing over to Brendon Hartley, with James Calado making way for ex-Alfa Romeo Formula 1 racer Antonio Giovinazzi.
The gap widened and narrowed over the next two hours, with no sign of the rain showers that sometimes threaten during the night, as light began to fall during the pits of equal length and those laps.
In the 15th hour, Hartley remained in the Toyota as Giovinazzi handed over to Ferrari’s long-stopping Alessandro Pier Guidi, giving his rival some breathing room.
But in the next round of pit stops, Ryo Hirakawa re-entered the battle in place of the impressive Hartley, who once again brought the two cars closer together.
Pierre Guidi was up to the task and they closed the gap to less than a second when they struck for the 19th time in the 16th hour.
Hirakawa was revealed to be struggling with a slow puncture and Toyota also required a nose change, allowing Ferrari to regain the lead in the pits as Calado moved from Pier Guidi.
Ferrari’s advantage grew under Calado as he gave Giovinazzi a half-minute advantage at the end of 17 hours.
“We’ve done a great job so far,” said the British driver, who was dealing with tire vibration.
“Working with Toyota is difficult. “They’ve got our backs and we’ve got their backs for the last 10 hours.”
In the 18th hour, Buemi lost extra time to Ferrari under a Full Course yellow called to clear the roundabout, particularly at the gravel Mulsanne corner.
With six hours to go, Giovinazzi led by two-tenths of a minute.
Behind the top two, the blue #2 Cadillac secured third place. Richard Westbrook trailed by 3:10 seconds as the clock ticked down to 19.
The yellow #3 Cadillac moved up to fourth at the expense of the #6 Porsche 963, which suffered another setback in the 16th hour while skating on the Porsche Curves where Kevin Estre tried to pass the LMP2 car.
After he returned to the pits, Team Penske took the 963 to the garage for repairs, effectively extinguishing Porsche’s last (and remote) hope of a record 20th Le Mans victory.
The car is currently 20th overall, one place ahead of the Jota 963 customer.
The No. 93 Peugeot, which has been in recovery mode since sliding at the Mulsanne corner in the fourth hour, moved up to fifth.
The American-owned Glickenhaus 007s were not a factor in the battles for the podium, but their high wear and hard runs kept them up the order throughout the night.
Entry #708 initially led its sister, but a momentary damage to the Arnage for Olivier Pla led to a trip to the garage.
Frank Maillot then spun in the #709 in the 18th hour and suffered nose damage.
The result after a hasty repair saw the #708 in the lead, with the two cars running eighth and ninth behind the sixth-placed #5 Porsche – now the German marque’s only hope for a top result – and the seventh-placed #50 Ferrari.
The battle for the second prototype class also hangs in the balance. In the 15th hour, Fabio Scherer moved back into the class lead in the ORECA Inter Europol competition, following in the footsteps of WRT’s Robert Kubica. This despite Scherer breaking his left leg after running over him in a Corvette from the GTE pole before the race!
In GTE, random pit stops change the order. The all-female Iron Ladies Porsche were in the mix for the win, but when the clock turned, the TF Aston Martin Vantage-powered ORT was at the top of the class.
Meanwhile, the “Garage 56” NASCAR Chevrolet made further progress over the last six hours. The car finished 24th overall, ahead of the GTE Am field, where it is. As the crews dive into the final quarter, Mike Rockenfeller takes over.
NEXT REPORT: Completion
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