As the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans reached the halfway point overnight, Ferrari and Toyota were jostling for the lead.
CLICK HERE for a previous report on the end of Hour 6
James Calado’s Ferrari 499P took a narrow lead at 04:00, just 3.5 seconds ahead of Sebastian Buemi’s Toyota GR010 Hybrid in a race that offered endless drama.
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As Saturday turned into Sunday, both Ferrari and Toyota saw their challenges weaken, with the Japanese marque losing one of the two entries entirely.
Meanwhile, Peugeot held on to an unlikely bid for victory – but only until the 12th hour, when a driver error destroyed any real hope in the second half of the race.
Cadillac threatens both Ferrari and Toyota, with the No. 2 V-Series.R just over a minute behind third place before Richard Westbrook reaches the halfway mark.
Porsche is also still in contention thanks to the No. 6 963 driven by Andre Lotterer, who in the hands of Kevin Estr moved up the order to ensure the manufacturers spread to fourth place.
Heavy rain returned to Le Mans in a deluge in the seventh hour, causing further carnage, particularly in LMP2.
But among the victims was one of the leading Hypercars. At the end of the sixth hour, the No. 75 Penske-driven Porsche stopped on the circuit with terminal fuel pressure problems with Mathieu Jaminet at the wheel.
Alessandro Pier Guidi in the #51 Ferrari 499P won the race and took the lead as the rain stopped at this stage but the track remained wet. But there was a double drama in the final minutes of the eighth hour.
First, Pierre Guidi found himself flying LMP2 and GTE at the first chicane at Mulsanne. Ferrari turned in sympathy, Pierre Guidi quickly recovered.
The incident triggered another slow zone, followed by a midnight strike that killed another leader.
Kamui Kobayashi in the #7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid pulled back on the approach to Tertre-Rouge, considering the slow zone, but collided first with the #66 JMW Ferrari and then the #35 Alpine ORECA.
Kobayashi managed to get the Toyota into the Mulsanne, but the badly damaged car died on top of him and was unable to continue. He jumped when one of the race favorites was forced to retire.
The removal of cars and debris required the race’s third Safety Car, which was extended again thanks to a complex new rotation system to rearrange the field.
The race resumed until 01:17, with Nico Muller taking the lead in the #94 Peugeot 9X8, much to the delight of the home crowd.
Now united, the leaders ran hard into the darkness in the 10th hour as Sébastien Bourdais let himself down in the yellow #3 Cadillac.
In front, Buemi regained the lead in the No. 8 Toyota, although Müller had the two Ferraris running third and fourth, and the No. 2 Caddy of Linn Heaven was fifth.
Full Course Yellow marred the game once again when ex-Formula 1 driver Daniil Kvyat crashed his Prema LMP2 car badly at the Porsche Curves.
That settled, and after the 12th pit stop, Muller again jumped to the front ahead of Buemi and Calado, who had taken over the #51 Ferrari at the 11th hour, with Lynn fourth, 12 seconds behind.
There was still very little there – although now there was a blow for Ferrari: the #50 499P pushed into the garage, leading six laps and leading the charge.
The lead changed again when Calado also dropped the Peugeot as Buemi tracked and passed Muller. By the end of the 11th hour, the Swiss had just over three seconds ahead of Muller and Lynn, while the fifth-placed #6 Porsche was back in the frame in the hands of Estre.
In the 12th hour, Gustavo Menezes took the #94 Peugeot from Müller and crashed hard at the first chicane at the Mulsanne, causing extensive front-end damage.
The American has returned the car to the pits, but the loss of repair time could give Peugeot an unexpected bid for the top spot.
With the Peugeot test seemingly folded, Calado overtook Buemi and closed in on the Toyota in a tight battle until the two stopped a lap later.
Buemi got new Michelins, Calado didn’t – Ferrari took the lead. It was a tight contest until the second half of the competition.
In the closely contested LMP2 class, the Duqueine Team led by Neil Jani took the lead, while the Project 1 – AO Porsche 911 GTE Am was driven by PJ Hyett.
The ‘Garage 56’ NASCAR Chevrolet continues to rock as Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller run 35th overall.
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