UPDATE: Porsche firms up lead at 16 Hour mark
New Zealand’s Earl Bamber has helped Porsche’s third entry to take charge with two thirds of the Le Mans 24 Hour completed.
Bamber’s solid early morning hours stint saw the #19 919 Hybrid he is sharing with F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg and Nick Tandy take the advantage with Hulkenberg then summoned for the dawn shift.
As night transitioned to daylight, Bamber remained in the cockpit of the one-off entry as it kept its nose in front of the #7 Audi R18 e-tron quattro driven by Benoit Treluyer until Hulkenberg took over from the Kiwi with just over eight and a half hours remaining.
Then a lengthy stop for the #7 saw it drop out of the top three with the #9 Audi taking over second place.
Filipe Albuquerque handed the wheel of the #9 R18 to Rene Rast as the #17 Porsche, which went a lap down on its stablemate just ahead of eight hours remaining, moved to third.
The more highly fancied of the Porsche attack saw Webber issued with a stop/go penalty for passing under yellow in the ninth hour.
Webber, however, remains upbeat about the chances, vowing to fight for every inch.
“Audi has a little bit of an advantage on the track, but we are very quick in the pits, so we are gaining track time back,” Webber said.
“We are experiencing an awesome showcase of racing here with sports cars with different technologies and strong drivers.
“We are fighting for every inch, it is fantastic and it could go on a lot longer. So we’re going to stay sharp.”
The penalty for #17 tarnished what was an otherwise stunning stint by Webber in the car he shares with New Zealand North Islander Brendon Hartley and German Timo Bernhard.
Nissan saw two of its three machines continuing in what has become a large scale public test session.
It lost the #21 in the early hours of the morning after 115 laps when a wheel parted company during Tsugio Matsuda’s stint which saw the GTR-LM forced into retirement, unable to continue at Arnage.
The #22 Nissan spectacularly started shedding bodywork including the bonnet which resulted in repairs to the splitter, floor and gearbox.
Chief engineer for the #22, Brandon Fry said the garage resembled a war zone.
“It was like a war zone around here. All three cars were in and out of the garage,” Fry explained.
“You couldn’t get them fixed quick enough; there was all sorts of things happening.”
The #23 Nissan was occupying 43rd position, 75 tours shy of the lead lap, while the #22 with Michael Krumm aboard was 46th; the last car classified as running.
Briton Matthew Howson was helping the #47 KCMG Oreca Nissan to comfortably lead the LMP2 ranks.
Howson was threatening to encroach further into the top 10 as he sat in ninth, one spot ahead of the second LMP2 runner, the #26 G-Drive Nissan driven by Sam Bird.
The #51 AF Corse Ferrari driven by the experienced ex-F1 pilot Giancarlo Fisichella headed the GTE Pro ranks while the #98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage driven by Pedro Lamy was leading the GTE Am class.