Porsche in contention at Le Mans halfway point

Twelve hours into the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans, Porsche is still in LMP1 contention, with the number 88 911 of the Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing team also fighting for the overall lead in GTE-Am. Both factory RSRs have retired with mechanical failures.

The race has not been plain sailing for Weissach. Minutes before Brad Pitt was due to wave the starting flag, the heavens opened, soaking the track and causing the race to be started under the safety car for the first time in its history. The 919s went alright in the rain, but when the green flag waved after 52 minutes, the RSRs came into their own.

Driving the number 92 car, Fred Makowiecki launched a charge and took the GTE-Pro lead, thanks in no small part to the 911’s superior traction. Patrick Pilet joined him at the front of the pack, and the pair swapped the overall lead until the track dried enough for their advantage to be nullified. Inevitably, the Ford GTs came into their sweet spot and swept to the front.

Behind the Pro RSRs, Wolf Henzler held a convincing lead in GTE-Am in the KCMG RSR, dicing with fellow works driver Patrick Long in the Abu Dhabi Proton 911. Even as the track dried out, the pair battled for the lead until the KCMG car hit problems.

Both works RSRs also had problems. The 91 car holed a rad and had to dive in the pits for a radiator change. Number 92 broke a steering support and lost a bundle of time in the garage. Both cars ended up back on track, but 91’s card had been marked. Soon after Kevin Estre jumped in for his night stint, there was a huge plume of smoke that could only have come from an engine failure. The course went full yellow, then safety cars came out as the marshalls worked hard to clear up the oil.

The circuit had not been green for very long, when the number 92 car came in to pit lane, clearly struggling to plough a straight furrow. Commentators ascribed it to a possible puncture, but it looked rather more serious to me. Eventually, Porsche tweeted retirement for car 92 due to a snapped front wishbone pickup and that was it: both works 911s were out. The number 77 RSR of Dempsey Racing is still running in GTE-Pro: 7th in class and a lap off the lead, but its last lap matched the leading Ferrari’s pace almost identically.

In LMP1, the number 1 Hybrid suffered high engine temps and was pulled into the garage for a water pump change. Soon after it got back to racing, it hit more trouble and limped back to the garage under half power. A few hours later, it rejoined the race and is again running well, albeit down the field. With only the Toyotas and the number 2 919 Hybrid running reliably up front at the halfway point, who knows what could go wrong in the second twelve hours.

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