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FIA WEC:  24 Hours of Le Mans – Porsche, KCMG, Corvette, SMP mid-race leaders

Four LMP1 factory teams – Audi, Toyota, Porsche, Nissan -- lined up for the tri-color for the first time since 1999. Porsche took the first three places on the grid, led by Neel Jani (#18, with Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas). Mark Webber, Brendan Hartley, and Timo Bernhard followed in the #17 and Formula 1’s Nico Hulkenberg, Nick Tandy, and Earl Bamber in the third Porsche factory P1 entry. The #8 Audi (Loic Duval, Lucas di Grassi, Oliver Jarvis) was the first non-Porsche and the first representative of last year’s race winning team.

Porsche’s 919 Hybrid was running a 2.0-l V4 gasoline powered engine with battery hybrid power vs. Audi’s R18 e-tron quattro with a 4.0-l turbodiesel V6 and flywheel hybrid system. Toyota’s TS040 Hybrid ran a 3.7-l V8 gasoline engine coupled with super capacitor hybrid technology and Nissan’s GT-R LM Nismo made its debut with a 3.0-l V6 gasoline/flywheel combination. Porsche was the only team running up the spec limit of 8 megajoules capacity on its electric recovery system. Toyota, Audi, and Nissan harvest 6, 4 and 2 mj respectively.

 Nineteen LMP2 entries began the race. The #47 HKG KCMG Oreca-Nissan (Matthew Howson, Nicolas Lapierre, Richard Bradley) started on pole, with the #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan (Roman Rusinov, Julien Canal, Sam Bird) next door.

Aston Martin Racing once again took GTE Pro pole honors with the #99 (Richie Stanaway, Alex MacDowall, Fernando Rees). AF Corse (#51 Ferrari 458 Italia; Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander, Giancarlo Fisichella) started second. Aston also topped the GTE Am field, its #98 (Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda) taking pole, again ahead of AF Corse (#83, Rui Aguas, Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard)

Bernard took the early lead in the #17 Porsche, followed by Jani. Duval (#8 Audi) passed Hulkenberg for third at the end of the first lap. Stanaway and Bruni were fighting hard for P1 in GTE Pro through the early laps with the #47 out front in LMP2. The #98 Aston led GTE Am.

With 23 hr 35 min left in the race, The #95 Aston (Marco Sorensen, Nicki Thiim, Christoffer Nygaard)  had moved to the front of GTE Pro. Bernard pitted from the lead in the #17 after 12 laps with 23:19 left in the race, had and Sebastian Buemi (#1 Toyota) being the last two LMP1 cars to do so.

The race’s first caution came out about 1 hr in when the #92 Porsche 911 RSR piloted by Patrick Pilet burst into flames following an oil leak.

Racing resumed at 22:37 with the #17 Porsche in the overall lead, KCMG still leading LMP2, the #95 Aston in front of GTE Pro and the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari 458 Italia (Viktor Shaytar, Andrea Bertolini, Aleksey Basov) the new GTE Am leader.

Lotterer (#7 Audi) took the lead from Bernard on track with 22:28 to go and pitted 8 min later, putting the Porsche back in first. The #98 Aston led GTE Am for a time, with SMP Racing Ferrari back in front at 22:06. Two hours in, the #7 Audi led the #17 Porsche by 2.456 sec, with the #18 Porsche another 4+ sec back.  The race was under a brief caution as the #40 Krohn Racing Ligier JS P2-Judd (Tracy Krohn) had to get pulled from the gravel following contact with an Extreme Speed Motorsports #30 Ligier JS P2-Honda competitor.

At 21:44 the #53 Riley Motorsports-TI Auto Dodge Viper SRT GTS-R (Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating, Marc Miller), a full-time participant in the US Tudor United SportsCar Championship, led GTE Am.

Lotterer pitted from the lead for fuel only with 21:36 left. The #47 LMP2 leader also came in. The #18 Porsche inherited the point, pitting 8 min later with Hartley taking over for Bernhard. The #7 came in three laps later following a puncture to change tires and driver, Treluyer taking over behind the wheel and Hartley taking the lead.

At 21:04 the #8 Audi (Duval) spun at hit the barriers after contact with the #51 AF Corse Ferrari. A safety car period began to repair the barriers, with the #8 pitting for bodywork repair.

The 19:50 mark saw the #9 Audi – its third entry, Felipe Albuquerque behind the wheel – dueling with Hartley (#17 Porsche) for the lead. Hartley said on team radio that oil on the windscreen was impairing his vision. Albuquerque pulled off for a scheduled pit stop.

With 18:10 left in the race the #17 Porsche (Webber) led the #7 Audi (Treluyer) by 12 sec, the #9 Audi running third. The caution flag flew a few minutes later. Oreca-Nissans held the Top 3 in LMP2 #47 KCMG driven by Howson leading the #46 Thiriet by Tds Racing entry (Pierre Thiriet) and the #48 Murphy Prototypes machine (Mark Patterson).

The #99 Aston led GTE Pro driven by Rees followed by the #64 Corvette Racing C7.R (Jordan Taylor). The #64 was the only Corvette Racing entry competing, the sister car having crashed out in practice. The #97 Aston (Darren Turner) ran third. Lamy led GTE Am in the #98 Aston, the winning car in the season’s first two rounds at Silverstone and Spa

At the race’s halfway point the #19 Porsche (Tandy) held a 61-sec lead over Marco Bonanomi in the #9 Audi. The #17 Porsche (Webber), which had been in the lead at the start of the 7th hour, served a 1-min stop-and-go penalty for overtaking under a previous yellow flag, dropping him 4th by the midway point.  The #18 Porsche also had problems, Jani going straight on the Mulsanne and hitting the tire wall, but managing to make it back to the pits for repairs.

The #47 KCMG held a 56-sec lead in the LMP2 class despite a drive through penalty and a long pitstop in the 12th hour of the race. The Thiriet Oreca ran second with the #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier (Rusinov) in 3rd one lap back.

The #64 Corvette (Tommy Milner) led GTE Pro by just 3-sec, running ahead of the #99 Aston (Stanaway) keeping the American team on its toes.  Reigning World GTE Champion Toni Vilander #51 AF Corse Ferrari) ran 3rd, 92 sec behind the Corvette.  The #97 Aston had retired with a blown engine..

The reigning LMGTE European Le Mans Series Champions SMP Racing Ferrari (Shaytar) led GTE Am by 17 sec over Lauda in the #98 Aston.

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