Le Mans, 20H update: Iron Dames lead at 20 hour mark
It's shaping up to be a close battle for the podium - and potentially the win - for Iron Dames, who enter the final four hours of the Centenary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans from the lead in class.
Iron Dames have been in contention for the win in GTE-AM throughout the race, following a brilliant recovery that saw the pink #85 Porsche moving up from 12th on the grid to leading the class in the opening four hours. After gaining the top of the class, Frey, Bovy and Gatting have cycled from first to third in between the rounds of pit stops, but haven't been able to pull away from their rivals. Strategy has been crucial - with pit stops happening mostly during slow zones, and with seconds making a difference. A safety car hampered the Dames' chances when they attempted to build a gap, but 20 hours into the race, the all-female trio remains steadily in the battle. Here's what happened in the last four hours. The 16th hour started with more drama, as Porsche's chances took another blow when Kevin Estre made contact with a LMP2 machine and went off at Porsche curves, making contact with the barriers. The #6 Porsche continued, but dropped down the order, promoting the #3 Cadillac to fourth and the #93 Peugeot to fifth overall. Iron Dames have been managing the strategy with care and Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey have been alternating at the wheel lately with very close lap times. The Dane, though, wasn't fully satisfied with their pace. “To be honest, the race has been tougher than expected", she said. "We’re lacking a bit of pace, especially at the beginning of our stints. After that, it gets a little better, but clearly, we can’t quite catch some of our rivals." "Under these conditions, I have the feeling that I don’t know the Porsche well enough yet", she explained. "Nonetheless, we continue to fight and our team is pushing me hard to occasionally do things with the car that I wouldn’t normally try.” Rejoining the track in fifth after her last previous stop with driver change, Frey hunted down the Kessel Racing's Ferrari of Takeshi Kimura at a pace of around four seconds per lap faster. When the bright yellow Ferrari pitted for an extra pit stop only a few laps into his stint, Frey caught the Japanese driver and completed a great pass for the lead - also having to watch her mirrors from the Peugeot hypercar navigating traffic with aggressive passes. The experienced Swiss driver, though, had everything under control and pulled away - followed by the Project 1 Porsche of Matteo Cairoli. Cairoli gained a few seconds over the following laps and got back ahead of Frey, as the two Porsches had been trading places at the top of GTE-AM for most of the hours of the race. Olivier Pla spun the #708 Glickenhaus and made contact with the wall between Indianapolis and Arnage; with the slow zone coming up, Iron Dames pitted Rahel Frey, who had just clocked the team's best lap of the race. Rahel remained in the car - and then improved her fastest lap by almost half a second. When the slow zone became a Full Course Yellow. the #33 Corvette and the #56 Project 1 Porsche pitted, going back to their bronze drivers. Frey was therefore back in the lead in GTE-AM with 6 hours and a half to go. After a series of fast laps, Rahel put a full minute between the #85 machine and the closest pursuer. With six hours to go, Ben Keating - at the wheel of the #33 Corvette and setting good laps - got past Hyett and moved up to second; Frey though, was still over a second per lap faster. Frey pitted at the six hour mark under green and cycled back into the lead, but both the Corvette and the Project 1 Porsche managed to stop during a slow zone, after another spin with contact for Ye Yifei in the #38 Hertz Team Jota. Rahel held the top spot, but the gap was now down to 50 seconds. There was drama also ahead - when the #51 Ferrari wouldn't restart after a pit stop and lost the overall lead to the #8 Toyota. Pier Guidi and Buemi were separated by a handful of seconds on track; the Ferrari driver closed in and overtook Buemi with a great move under braking at the second chicane. After Rahel Frey, it was Sarah Bovy's time to shine again. The #85 Porsche pitted from the lead and rejoined in third, with the Belgian going up against her usual qualifying rival Ben Keating. The Corvette, though, kept chipping away - with the TF Aston Martin of Michael Dinan also closing in. Michael Fassbender crashed heavily and retired in the #911 Proton Porsche; a slow zone just before the Ford Chicanes was deployed for barrier repairs, as Bovy continued to lead, a few seconds ahead of Michael Dinan and Nicolas Varrone, who took over from Keating. Ferrari leads overall with its #51 499 driven by Alessandro Pier Guidi, challenged by Brendon Hartley in the #8 Toyota. In LMP2, Fabio Scherer kept the top spot in the #34 Inter Europol after a brilliant race for the Polish squad. The final four hours of racing have the potential to change entire careers and write history.