Le Mans, 12H update: heartbreak for Doriane Pin
Just as the #63 Prema Oreca had recovered a lap and was looking back in contention, a crash at the 10 hour mark for one of her teammates resulted in Doriane Pin's retirement from her first Le Mans. Iron Dames battle for the lead in GTE-AM.
As we reach the halfway point of the race of the Centenary at Circuit de la Sarthe, two of the five female drivers on the grid have now retired from the race, following accidents in the third and tenth hours respectively. Lilou Wadoux had just taken the helm of the #83 Richard Mille Ferrari 488 GTE, when a sudden downpour caught out many drivers and eventually caused a safety car. Among the drivers that couldn't slow down and crashed it was Wadoux, who had shown extraordinary pace throughout the week - and was among the class favourites in LMGTE-AM. In LMP2, the #63 Prema Racing Oreca of Doriane Pin, Daniil Kvyat and Mirko Bortolotti was also a strong contender for the win ahead of the race. From fifth on the grid, former F1 driver Kvyat was briefly in the lead on the first lap, before settling in second. However, Kvyat picked up debris from a first lap crash and the #63 prototype had to pit for repairs just after the first safety car. Dropped just outside the top-20, Doriane Pin and Mirko Bortolotti had some extra work to do to recover positions - as they first had to survive the heavy rain that intermittently flooded the track. After a strong triple stint for Bortolotti, though, the team had gained back the lost lap - also having pitted at the right time during another neutralization - and things were starting to fall into place for the trio. With Kvyat back behind the wheel, they climbed back up to fifth, just before a pit stop under green. Right at the beginning of the 10th hour of racing, though, Kvyat made a mistake and crashed the #63 Oreca, destroying the rear end of the car. Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey, on the other hand, remain solidly in contention for the GTE-AM victory. Iron Dames are in fact contesting a stunning race after a start from 12th place on the grid: over the first three hours of racing, Rahel Frey had a spectacular run - aided by flawless strategy - and charged through the field, moving up to second before handing over to Sarah Bovy. The Belgian took the lead and, in the hands of Michelle Gatting, the #85 pink Porsche continued to battle in the top two. The team has often made the most out of the chaotic situations and pitted under yellow. Rahel Frey is currently behind the wheel - cycling between first and third in between the rounds of pit stops.
Here's what happened in the last four hours of racing. The ninth hour of the 2023 24H of Le Mans opened with more drama: the overall race leading Ferrari of Pier Guidi spinning out in the gravel as he tried to avoid a GTE car going off ahead. Soon after, the #7 Toyota was involved in a crash at Tertre Rouge with the #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari. The Safety Car was out on track for the third time in the race, as the #94 Peugeot led overall from the #50 Ferrari and the #2 Cadillac. Both the leading GTE-AM cars - the Project 1 Porsche and the Iron Dames Porsche took the opportunity to pit during the neutralization and, after 100 laps, were solidly in first and second place. The safety car was the perfect timing for Prema to pit Mirko Bortolotti - protagonist of a great triple stint. The Italian had recovered from P17 back to ninth in class despite the extremely challenging mixed weather conditions, and handed the car back over to Daniil Kvyat, who had taken the start of the race. With the different safety cars, Kvyat managed to gain back the lap and moved up to fifth. Gatting was back in the lead of GTE-AM once the #56 Project 1 Porsche pitted. At the restart, Muller and Hirakawa battled for the lead and the #8 Toyota was back ahead after a few hours. In LMP2, Kvyat had to pit just after the green flag and rejoined in P9, having nevertheless recovered the lost lap at the beginning. The Project 1 Porsche of Cairoli and the AF Corse Ferrari of Castellacci got back ahead of Michelle Gatting, who had stayed out at the safety car. Just as the race of the #63 Prema was looking to be very promising once again, Daniil Kvyat made a mistake at the 10 hour mark and crashed into the barriers at the Porsche Curves. The Prema machine was severely damaged and the team was out of the race. Doriane Pin's first ever Le Mans 24 Hours therefore ended with a DNF. The recovery of the #63 machine required the deployment of a Full Course Yellow and Michelle Gatting pitted from third; Rahel Frey was back in the driving seat for her first night stint of the race. Having rejoined in fourth place, Rahel cycled back to second and resumed her chase of the T-Rex-liveried Porsche, now with Gunnar Jeannette behind the wheel. Rahel, though, had to defend from Martin Rump (#911 Proton Porsche), who would grab second on lap 118. The top three positions in GTE-AM continued to alternate at the top during the pit stop cycles. When bronze-rated PJ Hyett and Thomas Flohr got behind the wheel of the Project 1 Porsche and the AF Corse Ferrari, Rahel Frey made it back into the class lead, extending her gap to over 20 seconds before her 11th pit stop - which happened under green. Sarah Bovy took over, rejoining in fifth place. The hypercar class has never been so alive; James Calado leads in the #51 Ferrari after passing the #8 Toyota of Sebastien Buemi; Richard Westbrook's Cadillac follows in third and the #6 Porsche in fourth. The #7 Toyota, the #94 Peugeot and the #50 Ferrari all dropped down the order in the last few hours.