Although it’s been far from an epic first 12 hours in the 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it’s been decent enough to keep things interesting.
Class leaders at the halfway mark are:
- Kamui Kobayashi (No. 6 Toyota TS050 Hybrid, LMP1 and overall),
- Gustavo Menezes (No. 36 Signatech Alpine A460 Nissan, LMP2),
- Matteo Malucelli (No. 82 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, GTE-Pro)
- Khaled Al Qubaisi (No. 88 Abu Dhabi Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR, GTE-Am)
The No. 6 Toyota TS050 Hybrid and No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid have been the dominant cars overall and in LMP1, with the Toyota doing most of the leading courtesy of two brilliant stints from Mike Conway, along with co-drivers Stephane Sarrazin and Kamui Kobayashi. The Toyota is running a bit longer per stint while the Porsche is running shorter, but faster – that’s the divide.
Conway is maturing and has been arguably the early race star, while Sarrazin remains in search of an elusive Le Mans win. Kobayashi moves up to LMP1 this year after a prior start in a GTE-Pro Ferrari F458 Italia for AF Corse. Kobayashi leads Romain Dumas in the Porsche by 43.868 seconds.
The Porsche, driven by polesitter Neel Jani along with co-drivers Dumas and Marc Lieb, has been that manufacturer’s lone uninterrupted bullet. The No. 1 Porsche’s troubled 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship season continued – high water temperatures and a garage trip have hurt the hopes for the trio of defending World Champions Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley.
The No. 5 Toyota has been a suitable back player and could sneak a podium but hasn’t been a star on outright pace as yet.
Meanwhile the pair of Audi R18s have each had trouble (gravel trips, turbocharger changes and nose changes) and they’re a bit behind on pace – down a second and a half to two per lap.
The hope for a privateer podium upset hasn’t really come together as yet, with only the No. 13 Rebellion R-One AER running untroubled and the second Rebellion and ByKolles have hit issues.
As expected, the Oreca 05s and Alpine A460s have been the cars to beat. The Signatech Alpine No. 36, driven by open-wheel ex-pats Gustavo Menezes and Stephane Richelmi with defending LMP2 winner Nicolas Lapierre, leads at half distance by 20.678 over the No. 46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca 05 of Ryo Hirakawa, Pierre Thiriet and Mathias Beche.
The pair of G-Drive Racing entries – both the No. 26 Oreca (Rene Rast, Will Stevens, Roman Rusinov) and the No. 38 Gibson 015S (Jake Dennis, Simon Dolan, Giedo van der Garde) have also contended, while Strakka Racing and the pair of SMP Racing BR01 Nissans have hung in there.
American teams have had an interesting go of it. Suspension damage and a spin sidelined the hopes for Tequila Patron ESM’s best car, the No. 31 Ligier JS P2 Nissan of Ryan Dalziel, Pipo Derani and Chris Cumming, while the No. 30 car sustained an early race hit from another car and has never contended. Michael Shank Racing has fought on despite an in-race five-minute penalty for an earlier in the week engine change and a puncture, with Laurens Vanthoor, Ozz Negri and John Pew all showing well in the No. 49 Ligier JS P2 Honda. Krohn Racing has seen its eponymous and likable team owner/driver Tracy Krohn spin twice but without any damage, and he, longtime co-driver Nic Jonsson and Joao Barbosa soldier on in the Greaves Motorsport-operated No. 40 “Krohn Green” Ligier JS P2 Nissan.
KCMG, which won this class last year, has retired.
The story, simply, here, is Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. The question from here is whether the three remaining Ford GTs in contention – the two U.S. entries (Nos. 68 and 69) and the one untroubled UK entry (No. 66) have the reliability to match their undoubted, unquestioned and unrivaled pace.
IndyCar aces Sebastien Bourdais and Scott Dixon ran 1-2, but it’s been the more usual sports car veterans – Dirk Mueller, Joey Hand, Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe – who’ve primarily carried the weight in the first half of the race. Hand, in particular, has stood out.
The only car remotely in the same galaxy to the Fords is a Ferrari, but not either AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE. The No. 82 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE of Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander, and Matteo Malucelli – the latter who actually led at half distance by 49.954 seconds over Ryan Briscoe in the No. 69 Ford – has been a capable manufacturer rival, albeit the only one realistically close on pace thanks to the controversial Balance of Performance in class.
Corvette Racing has been eternally scrappy despite its lack of pace, the same true for Aston Martin Racing which has pressed on but never been a factor. It’s been a nightmare for Porsche, without pace or reliability and the No. 91 Porsche 911 RSR having lost an engine and retiring – thus taking defending race winner Nick Tandy along with IMSA GT Le Mans title winner Patrick Pilet and rising French factory star Kevin Estre out of the race. The No. 92 Porsche was also a retirement just past the halfway mark.
Also of note, the No. 71 AF Corse Ferrari, which won the first two FIA WEC races with Sam Bird and Davide Rigon, is out after Bird reported a broken rim on the car. That will alter the full-season points beyond just this race. Also out here is the team’s third driver, Andrea Bertolini.
It’s been a great scrap in the least heralded of the four classes at Le Mans. The No. 88 Abu Dhabi Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR led at the halfway mark with Khaled Al Qubaisi ahead of NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell in the No. 62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari F458 Italia by 42.1 seconds.
Clearwater Racing has also been in the mix with its Ferrari, and there may be more cars to figure as the race goes on. The WeatherTech Porsche was the first retirement.
Still running is the inspirational SRT41 by OAK Racing Morgan Nissan, the invitational entrant, featuring quad amputee Frederic Sausset with coach and co-driver Christophe Tinseau and third driver Jean-Bernard Bouvet.