24H Le Mans, 16H: Iron Dames fight back through sunrise
Light cuts through darkness: as the sun rises back over Le Mans, the Iron Dames are back in the battle for the top-10, having recovered from two punctures and a suspension issue with amazing stints by Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting.
The second part of the 89th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans started with a relatively settled running order for the overall top-five: the #7 Toyota has been leading the race from the get go, ahead of the #8 sister car that, with Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley, recovered during the opening hours after being spun around on the first lap. On different strategies, the #8 closed the gap when Kamui Kobayashi went off at Indianapolis corner - crucially keeping it off the barriers - due to a brake balance issue. The leading Toyota remained ahead but Hartley then got ahead during the pit sequence. When Jose Maria Lopez - now in the #7 after Kobayashi - got closer and closer, for the first time this year the battle for the overall lead was on. Toyota decided for a position swap and allowed through the #7 car, as Lopez retook the lead from Hartley during the 13th hour. There was a position change in the top-3 in LMP2 category as well, when the third placed United Autosport Oreca was stopped by an alternator problem that allowed the #65 Panis Racing team to clinch third in class. Team WRT, at its first Le Mans participation, leads unchallenged since the early stages with a dominant 1-2: Deletraz and Habsburg traded positions during the pit sequence, with the Austrian currently holding the top spot. Previously, Giedo van der Garde (#29 Team Nederland) continued the Dutch team's ill fated race with an off in the gravel at the first chicane, followed in the same corner by the #388 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari, with Christian Hook behind the wheel. There was more drama also for the #49 High Class Racing Oreca driven by Jan Magnussen, who got punted off by the #26 G-Drive of Rusinov. The Danish former F1 driver picked up damages and then lost the car at Arnage, where he made contact with the barriers. The #26 - already the protagonist of the earlier collision with the #1 Richard Mille Racing Oreca of Sophia Floersch - received a 10-second penalty for the responsibility in the accident. Having recovered from a previous tyre puncture when in sixth position in GTE-AM, the Iron Dames were steadily recovering and already almost back in the top-10. During Michelle Gatting's second driving shift, the #85 Ferrari had to be brought back in the garage for suspension issues and lost several laps. When Sarah Bovy returned behind the wheel once the problem was solved by the brilliant Iron Lynx crew, the Belgian rookie continued to battle through the night and gained a position. She handed over to Rahel Frey in P14, and the Swiss racer was able to recover one further position. Just like in the Hypercar class, the leaders in GTE-Pro were again really close: the #63 Corvette Racing caught up again with the leading #51 AF Corse Ferrari (Pier Guidi-Calado-Ledogar), but the Italian team held off the attacks. The #92 Porsche of Estre, Jani and Christensen follows in third. Another slow zone was triggered by the #71 Inception Racing Ferrari: following a pit stop, Ben Barnicoat was given the green light and Barnicoat lost the front-left wheel. This meant that the Ferrari had to crawl back to the pitlane and was wheeled back in the garage. Michelle Gatting returned in the driving seat for her second driving shift; Gatting took over from Frey and climbed to 12th position in LMGTE-AM. In this class, Rovera/Perrodo/Nielsen (#83 AF Corse) had to defend from Keating/Pereira/Fraga in #33 Aston Martin, but the Italian brand remains on top of this class. The second Toyota - a few hours before so close to challenge the sister car for the overall lead - also hit trouble and had to pit for a nose change due to a hit on a kerb. Reportedly, both the Toyota hypercars suffered from brake issues. This allowed the #7 to open a gap of over 2 minutes over the #8, but Nakajima steadily reduced the gap. The #88 Proton Competition Porsche, previously fifth in GTE-AM, was wheeled back in the garage with a puncture that left the 911 RSR-19 with more damages. When the light started to cut through the darkness and Michelle Gatting's amazing driving shift brought the #85 Ferrari back in the top-10; the Iron Dames saw their target possible again. She pitted and handed over to Sarah Bovy after 15 hours of racing and the Belgian rejoined in P12.
After 16 hours, Mike Conway leads the overall race after taking over from Jose Maria Lopez. Second in Kazuki Nakajima, 1:30min behind and 4 laps clear of the third-placed Alpine.
Olivier Pla continues Glickenhaus's run in fourth overall, ahead of the two WRT LMP2 Oreca. The Panis Racing LMP2 squad has now found in the #28 JOTA a challenger for the class podium.
In GTE-Pro, James Calado (#51 AF Corse Ferrari) holds a safe gap on the #63 Corvette, while the second Ferrari has dropped to sixth in class and the #92 Porsche - now driven by Kevin Estre - is back in third.
Positions are unchanged at the top of GTE-AM as well, with #83 AF Corse still leading the #33 TF Sport Aston Martin and the #80 Iron Lynx Ferrari.
Sarah Bovy is currently P10.