|The 24 Hours|
|The rain gets heavier once again and whilst the headlight problems for the #6 Cadillac seem to have been solved, several teams have suffered electrical and electronic problems due to water intrusion. Telemetry and radio systems seem particularly vulnerable. |
With less than six hours gone, a GTS car is in the top ten - the class leading #64 Corvette.
Laurent Redon loses the back end of the fourth placed #17 Pescarolo Courage at the Dunlop Chicane, pitching the car into the gravel - allowing the following #8 Bentley to pass.
More pitlane action. The #33 MG is wheeled into the garage suffering from a misfire, handing over the class lead to the (unfancied) #38 ROC Reynard of Pascal Fabre.
Ian McKellar Jnr was particularly forthright about his experiences in the RML Saleen in the rain in the gloom. "I can honestly say that I was shitting myself," said British GT racing's answer to tact and diplomacy.
What begins with A, ends in I and is the fastest thing around Le Mans? For at least a lap or so the answer is Ascari, Werner Lupberger trading times with ex F1 pilot Johnny Herbert he's now up to 10th place and chasing down the GTS leading #64 Corvette ahead of him.
The LMP 675 class leading #38 ROC Reynard heads for the pit garage - engine cover off and the first and second placed LMP 675 cars are both in trouble.
David Brabham in the recently resurrected #12 Panoz has stopped at the Forest Esses and has been pushed, for now at least, to a place of safety by the marshals. Brabham would return to the pits some 30 minutes later.
In case anyone out there still wants to be a driver at LM, just read what Eric van de Poele told Peter Radcliffe after stepping out of the #8 Audi "It's just blind, I can't see anything, visibility is really terrible. I was aquaplaning at 300 kph, and even at 220 kph the wipers are lifting off the screen!" That explains John Wickham's comment about visibility, but not misting.
To re-emphasize the difficulties, the #30 WR Peugeot performs a triple spin before clipping the barriers, causing considerable rear-end damage.
The real dark horse of the 2001 Le Mans 24 Hours might just be Chrysler. As the much vaunted challenges from Bentley and MG begin to fade, all three Chrysler LMP cars are running in the top 12. Pedro Lamy is leading the charge in 5th place in the #16 car, with Yannick Dalmas one place further back in 6th. With similar 300kph aquaplaning problems to the other leading runners being reported by Pedro Lamy, and water penetration affecting the radios, it's a complete bugger out there (for everyone) but the drivers are double stinting and chasing hard.
With six and a half hours gone the top six are:
#1 Joest R8 82 Laps
#2 Joest R8 81 Laps
#3 Champion R8 81 Laps
#8 Bentley 80 Laps
#16 Chrysler 79 Laps
#15 Chrysler 79 Laps
LMP900 #1 Joest R8 (First overall)
LMGTP #8 Bentley (Fourth overall)
LMP675 #38 ROC Reynard (Eighth Overall)
GTS #63 Corvette (Ninth Overall)
GT #83 Porsche (Thirteenth Overall)
Almost as this is written, the #3 Champion R8 has ground to a halt at Arnage less than a lap after it struggled to get away from a routine pit stop. This moves the #8 Bentley back up into the top three.
No confirmation yet whether the Champion car's problems are terminal but the confirmed retirements so far are:
#35 Rowan Racing Pilbeam 3 Laps (Accident)
#57 FFSA Chrysler Viper 4 Laps (Accident)
#61 Konrad Saleen S7-R 4 Laps (Accident)
#37 Dick Barbour Racing Reynard 4 Laps (Accident)
#34 MG-Lola EX257 30 Laps (Engine)
#4 Gulf Audi R8 35 Laps (Electrical)
#5 Cadillac LMP 56 Laps (Accident)
#7 Bentley EXP Speed 8 (Gearbox)
The Spirit of Le Mans is alive and kicking. Scott Maxwell is nursing the damaged #21 Ascari back to the pits. The team are ready and will try to return the car to the fray. Werner Lupberger in the sister #20 car is now up to 8th.
Troubles though for Yannick Dalmas in the #16 Chrysler; a spin at Arnage has necessitated a lengthy to the pit garage for attention. That incident, coupled with a charge from Sebastien Bourdais (second fastest at this point) has vaulted the #17 Courage up in fourth place. Last year all over again for Henri?
Two more runners making up ground fast after earlier delays are Jan Lammers in the #9 Racing For Holland Dome, up to 23rd and charging hard. Charging harder though is Mark Blundell, now back up to 25th and faster (by five seconds a lap) than anybody else.
In GT, the crowd pleasing Callaway is running fourth in class at the seven hour mark. The car has had a rollercoaster race. Starting from the pitlane thanks to a timing error on the part of the team (not a plan as suggested here), Cort Wagner took the car to the head of the class before the more tractable Porsche runners took advantage. Its strong showing can only be good news for a class in which the "Porsche or Nothing" rule has applied for too long. Just look at the water at the first chicane on Mulsanne.
Didier Theys is taking instruction from his mechanics to try to get the #3 Champion R8 back to the pits. Problems with the electronic gearshift stopped the car and the team are attempting to get it into gear manually.
The third placed #8 Bentley is in the pitlane and the engine cover comes off.
Olivier Beretta in the #16 Chrysler has retaken fourth from Sebastien Bourdais in the #17 Courage and now inherits third as the stationary Bentley begins to fall down the leaderboard. Up to sixth overall is the LMP675-leading #38 ROC Reynard.
Vanina Ickx has stopped out on the circuit in the #55 Paul Belmondo Racing Viper.
A brief break for the TMS crew's first food of the race (Thanks to Lena and the Ascari Hospitality crew). We're looking for a second wind. The drivers were looking for any kind of wind to blow the rain clouds away - and the rain did stop at about 23.00. Inters have been tried by some, but it's still wet enough for wets at 23.30. The silver R8s are 1 - 2 of course, three laps ahead of the green Courage of Bourdais, then Beretta, Wallace and Dalmas - then the ROC Reynard, Fellows' Corvette, the third Chrysler, the #20 Ascari, the #64 Corvette, the lone Cadillac and - the GT class leading Seikel Porsche (#83).
Then it absolutely bucketed down again. Five minutes was a good lap time. See the next report for this man's adventures (Youles)....
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