This year's Petit Le Mans has passed half distance with two of the works entries from Audi and Peugeot hitting trouble and their sister cars able to recover from early issues to climb back to the lead.
Stephane Sarrazin handed over the reins of his No. 8 Peugeot to Alexander Wurz. Sarrazin engaged in a tight battle with the No. 1 Audi, driven by Romain Dumas and later Marcel Fassler, and survived a hairy moment out of the last turn when approaching two slower GT cars.
Exiting Turn 12, Martin Rich spun off course in his Lotus Evora and a Jaguar slowed in front of Sarrazin. The Frenchman coolly backed off briefly, dove to the inside and passed both cars. Even more impressively, Sarrazin didn't change his set of Michelin tires during his most recent stint.
“It was a good fight with the No. 1 Audi, and I was pushing very hard to lap the No. 1,” Sarrazin said. “We didn't change tires, as we were waiting for a safety car. It did three stints (109 laps). A car spun in front and one was in the middle. I was very lucky as it was an odd moment.”
These two have been left as the factory effort main contenders, since the No. 7 Peugeot ground to a halt with gearbox issues (Sebastien Bourdais driving) and No. 2 Audi had contact with two GT cars and made several visits in and out of the paddock. The No. 2 Audi has continued but is dozens of laps off the pace.
Early race leaders Team ORECA Matmut has soldiered on in third with the previous generation Peugeot 908 HDi FAP in its final ride, and has a podium spot for the moment. Gasoline-powered entries from Aston Martin Racing and the two OAK Racing Oak Pescarolo Judds are in tow, each keeping the pace up as much as possible.
Joao Barbosa leads LMP2 for Level 5 Motorsports in the team's new cost-capped HPD ARX-01g, while others in the category have all hit various problems.
LMPC is in flux as well, Kyle Marcelli having done a magnificent first stint to come from the rear of the grid to lead in class for Intersport. Marcelli's pole-winning time was disallowed as the team's repaired chassis did not go through pre-qualifying technical inspection; nonetheless with even more parts from the team's damaged No. 89 chassis being bolted on the spare No. 37, now renumbered, Marcelli stormed back. Ryan Lewis also put in a particularly impressive first stint for PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports in that team's No. 52 entry, leading most of the first three hours.
Championship-wise, both Genoa and CORE have had issues with their contending cars. CORE's problems started early with Ricardo Gonzalez going off course, and in the fifth hour smoke billowed from the right bank of that car when Gunnar Jeannette passed turn 12. Jeannette reported the car's power steering belt broke. He pulled off course in turn 1, rolled backwards down the hill into the pit lane. Things aren't looking good for Jeannette, who lost the class title last year in similar disheartening fashion, but the team should go down fighting.
Ferrari F458s have largely led in GT – either from the ILMC-entered cars of AF Corse's No. 51 and Luxury Racing's No. 58, or the pair of Extreme Speed entries driven very well by Guy Cosmo, Rob Bell and Ed Brown (No. 02) and Johannes van Overbeek, Scott Sharp and Dominik Farnbacher (No. 01).
BMW have fought through several punctures and run only fifth and sixth with the two M3s. Whichever Michelin or Dunlop shod car finishes ahead will secure the tire manufacturer championship as the two were tied entering.
Krohn Racing (GTE Am) and Black Swan Racing (GTC) lead the other two classes at the moment.