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Race report
Le Mans 24 Hours of Le Mans

Le Mans 24h, H9: Toyota leads Porsche after Kubica penalty for causing crash

After a sedate period, the Le Mans 24 Hours burst into life when leader Robert Kubica caused a huge crash and lengthy safety car, and it rained hard again.

#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 - Hybrid: Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley, Ryo Hirakawa

After nine hours of frantic action, Toyota’s Ryo Hirakawa led in its #8 car after erstwhile leader Kubica was given a 30s stop/go penalty for causing a huge crash on the Mulsanne Straight.

Hour seven began with a brief but hard rain shower as darkness fell, with Kubica’s #83 AF Corse Ferrari leading the #5 factory Porsche by over 45s. Kubica pitted for wets, as the factory Ferraris stayed out on slicks, and such were the conditions that Kubica even lapped the #51 Ferrari as it slithered around waiting for the track to dry.

A full-course yellow was soon required when the #60 Claudio Schiavoni spun his Iron Lynx Lamborghini GT3 car firmly into the barrier at the second Mulsanne chicane.

Kubica reported a gearbox temperature alarm but was told to press on with his wet tyres, now well ahead of Hirakawa in Toyota #8. Kubica switched out his wets after seven laps for soft slicks but retained his lead as the #8 did likewise, putting the #50 Ferrari back to second – and Niklas Nielsen then carved into Kubica’s lead having made a net gain by staying on slicks.

The race’s first full safety car was required when leader Kubica clashed at high speed with the delayed #15 BMW Dries Vanthoor, who slammed heavily into the barriers at the end of the Mulsanne Straight, the Belgian complaining of foot pain as he hobbled away. 

Vanthoor was attempting to stay on the lead lap and they were both lapping the #92 Manthey Manthey PureRxing Porsche 911 GT3 car at the time – “he was racing me and pushing me to the wet,” complained Kubica. 

 

After a lengthy safety car period for barrier repairs of over 90 minutes, during which a dog got loose on the track, the rain returned for the restart towards the end of hour eight. The race went green with most cars on slicks, with the #5 Porsche of Fred Makowiecki and #311 Cadillac of Pipo Derani staying out to lead while most others dived for the pits to take wets.

The wet-shod Kubica quickly picked off Derani and chased down Makowiecki, passing him just before the end of the following lap. But Kubica was assessed a 30s stop/go penalty for the Vanthoor clash.

He extended a 6s advantage over Hirakawa, who inherited the lead when Kubica took his penalty. 

At the hour nine point, Laurens Vanthoor ran second in the #6 Porsche, 15s behind Hirakawa and 10s ahead of the #7 Toyota of Nyck de Vries.

Kubica rejoined in sixth behind the #2 Cadillac of Alex Lynn; Makowiecki tumbled to 11th on his slicks after his stubborn gamble failed terribly.

Lynn passed the #50 Ferrari of Antonio Fuoco for fifth, pushing the earlier dominant Ferrari back to a 5-6-7.

In LMP2, the #10 Vector Sport Oreca of Stephane Richelmi lost his class lead during the safety car phase, which promoted the #37 Cool Racing car to the lead – despite the fact that Lorenzo Fluxa had earlier spun coming into the pits during the rain. The #22 United Autosports and #24 Nielsen Racing entries also benefited. 

More turmoil occurred when the #30 Duqueine Team car caught fire on the Mulsanne Straight in Jakub Smiechowski’s hands.

At the hour nine point, Malthe Jakobsen led in the #37 from Fabio Scherer in the #24 and Ben Barnicoat in AF Corse’s #183 – with the #10 chasing them in fourth. 

In the new LMGT3 class, there was early drama at the start of hour seven when Maxime Martin in the frontrunning #46 BMW he’d just taken over from Valentino Rossi clumsily punted Ben Hanley’s much-delayed #23 United LMP2 car into a spin. Martin got away with a warning for the incident and led the #92 Manthey PureRxing Porsche, which had a grandstand view of Vanthoor’s huge shunt.

The polewinning #70 McLaren then went into the garage in a cloud of steam after Brendon Iribe had clearly hit something solid.

 

At the restart following the long safety car, Klaus Bachler spun the #92 Porsche coming into the pits and dropped way down the order.

That handed the advantage to the sister #91 Porsche of Richard Lietz, who had stayed out on slicks, but Bachler atoned by charging back to the front of the class, leading Dennis Olsen’s Proton Ford Mustang. Jordan Taylor is also in the mix in Spirit of Race’s Ferrari 296.

Just before the end of the hour, Ahmad Al Harthy spun off at the Esses in the #46 BMW – taking it completely out of the battle for honours.

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