24H Le Mans, half race: Iron Dames hit trouble into the night
Having recovered from a puncture, the Iron Dames keep fighting despite a technical issue that dropped Gatting, Frey and Bovy to P14 in GTE-AM, as the race reached its half-way point.
One of the most iconic and magic - yet challenging - moments in the 24 hours of Le Mans has come: the night has fallen over La Sarthe. At the mid-race mark, the overall race continues to be solidly in the hands of the two Toyota Hypercars: Kamui Kobayashi leads the pace over the sister #8 car of Sebastien Buemi. The Alpine A480 Gibson - now driven by Andre Negrao - made it back to third overall after an incident had dropped the French squad down the order in the earlier hours of darkness, when Mathieu Vaxiviere spun at the first chicane on the Mulsanne straight and had to be lifted from the gravel to rejoin the race. Vaxiviere, Lapierre and Negrao had to chase down the LMP2 cars and, ultimately, the #708 Glickenhaus - also recovering from a troubled first hour - to get back into the podium position. In the ninth hour, Lapierre pulled off a great pass on Olivier Pla after a long battle at the first chicane; Pla tried to respond back, but went wide and had to give up the position. Lapierre was then in free air and hunted down - and passed - the #31 WRT LMP2 Oreca of Robin Frijns, as the Belgian team had previously placed its cars in third and fourth overall and continue its dominant run in LMP2 class. The eighth hour had started with the Safety Car triggered by a huge crash by the #25 G-Drive of Rui Andrade at the Dunlop chicane, which is likely going to end in the team's retirement. Officially retired are the #56 Team Project 1 after a big accident by Egidio Perfetti at the first chicane and the #1 Richard Mille Racing team, caught in a crash 5 hours into the race where Sophia Floersch was faultlessly hit twice. The race resumed after approximately 20 minutes of neutralization and the GTE-AM class saw a change in the lead: Felipe Fraga recovered over 10 seconds and passed Alessio Rovera in the #83 AF Corse Ferrari. Fraga, at the wheel of the #33 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage, had led the early stages of the race but a double tyre puncture and a spin had dropped them to second place. The Team Nederland LMP2 entry also endured a difficult first half of the race and Frits van Eerd got spun around at the pit exit by the #66 JMW Ferrari of Thomas Neubauer. The LMP2 car was recovered but lost valuable time, while the Ferrari would later pit with damages. Cooper MacNeil crashed hard at the Ford Chicane and made it to the pitlane. The damages on the #79 GTE-Pro Porsche, though, unfortunately suggest that it will be game over for Bamber-MacNeil-Vanthoor. In GTE-AM, the #85 Ferrari of the Iron Dames had completed a stunning first hours, as Gatting and Bovy - at her Le Mans debut - had really solid triple-stints. Rahel Frey brought the car to sixth in class - from 17th on the grid - but a tyre puncture six hours in hampered their chances for a top-five. Frey limped back to the pits and the Iron Lynx crew sent Michelle Gatting back out in 12th position. The Danish racer was set for another recovery and was already back at the edges of the top-10, when a suspension issue required a long pit-stop. The #85 Ferrari spent several laps in the garage and was brought back out with Sarah Bovy behind the wheel at the tenth hour. Having rejoined in 16th place and six laps down, Bovy made up two more positions and handed over to Rahel Frey in P14 with 13 hours left on the clock. Midway through the race, the two Toyotas are separated by 20 seconds, with the third placed Alpine 3 laps behind. The #22 United Autosport LMP2 Oreca of Phil Hanson, Fabio Scherer and Filipe Albuquerque is third in class and one lap behind the two dominant WRT cars, 2 minutes ahead of the fourth placed #65 Panis Racing. In GTE-Pro, AF Corse continues to lead with the #51 Ferrari of Pier Guidi-Calado-Ledogar, as the #63 Corvette followed in second place less than 20 seconds adrift. The second AF Corse Ferrari and the #92 Porsche swapped places for the final podium spot in the tenth hour, with Kevin Estre temporarily moving into third place. Nicklas Nielsen brought back the silver #83 AF Corse Ferrari into the GTE-AM lead, as Dylan Pereira got behind the wheel of the #33 Aston Martin. The #80 Iron Lynx Ferrari (Cressoni-Mastronardi-Ilott) follows in third place.