The #8 GR010 Hybrid of Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa led the #7 car of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez by 20s after 12 hours.
At the start of Hour 9, Buemi retook the lead from Conway and – as they circulated just 0.5s apart – radioed his team to ask: “Can you ask Mike what he thinks because we are pushing crazy. I’m not sure this is sustainable in the long run.”
But at the end of Hour 9, after Conway handed over to Lopez, the luckless Argentinian hit a slow zone on his out lap that Hartley, who took over from Buemi, completely avoided. It meant the #8 pulled out a 27s lead, allowing Hartley to save his tyres and, in the following three hours, the gap remained relatively static at around 20s.
The #709 Glickenhaus 007 LMH of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Franck Mailleux continues to run in third, two laps behind the Toyotas. The sister #708 crept back into the top 10 overall following Olivier Pla’s earlier shunt, although it had a brief scare when it required an engine electronics recycle in the pits.
The #36 Alpine A480-Gibson is still outside the top 20 after its early mechanical woes.
In LMP2, a phenomenal drive from Robin Frijns brought the penalised #31 WRT Oreca 07-Gibson back into the frame after its first-corner misadventure by Rene Rast that fired United’s Will Owen into the gravel.
However, the #38 JOTA Oreca continued its Toyota-style dominance out front, with Will Stevens, Antonio Felix da Costa and Roberto Gonzalez in command. It continues to run fourth overall.
The #9 Prema Orlen Oreca of Robert Kubica, Louis Deletraz and Lorenzo Colombo is its closest consistent challenger, especially after Deletraz saw off WRT’s Sean Gelael, his former F2 rival.
Another wild fight in the early hours was between Panis Racing’s Julien Canal and Team Penske’s Felipe Nasr, which was settled in Nasr’s favour after a lengthy side-by-side duel.
Porsche leads GTE Pro
The #92 factory Porsche 911 RSR-19 of Kevin Estre, Michael Christensen and Laurens Vanthoor continued to boss the GTE Pro class in the wake of Corvette Racing’s earlier travails. Christensen even found time to spin at Mulsanne Corner, and the car holds a healthy lead over its #91 sister car.
Alexander Sims drove a blinder in the recovering #64 Corvette C8.R he shares with Nick Tandy and Tommy Milner after its earlier brake issues – although he was one of several drivers penalised 5s for going too quickly in a slow zone.
The #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488s of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Serra remains in touch with the frontrunners.
In GTE Am, #79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 of Cooper MacNeil, Julian Andlauer and Thomas Merrill was toppled from its longtime lead just before the halfway mark when MacNeil lost over a minute on one lap.
That allowed the #33 TF Sport Aston of Ben Keating, Henrique Chaves and Marco Sorensen to hit the front, with the #99 Hardpoint Porsche of Andrew Haryanto, Alessio Picariello and Martin Rump and #98 Northwest Aston Martin Vantage of Paul Dalla Lana, Nicki Thiim and David Pittard all in contention with another 12 hours to go.