Le Mans 24H: 4H update – The toughest start for Floersch and Iron Dames
The start of the 90th Le Mans 24 Hours turned out to be not ideal for Sophia Floersch – who had gearbox issue on the opening lap – and Iron Dames, as Michelle Gatting picked up a puncture on the third lap. Both teams are back underway and will have some time to make up, but at Le Mans nothing is lost yet. Richard Mille Racing runs in the top 10 in LMP2.
It is the race that everyone awaits for a full year, with teams and drivers putting in so much effort that a good result at La Sarthe can change the fate of a whole season. And was certainly not the start to the 90th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans that neither Sophia Floersch nor Iron Dames were expecting. On a very warm French day, the green flag was waved at 4pm local – and it was chaos at Turn 1, with the #31 WRT LMP2 Oreca of Rene Rast hitting the #22 United Autosport of Philip Hanson, who went into the gravel at Turn 1. At the same time, Sophia Floersch – at the wheel of the #47 APR Oreca for the first stint – came to a halt on track, with overheating issues that damaged the gear actuator. She eventually made it back to the pits at slow speed and, 5 laps later, she would rejoin at the tail end of the 62-car pack. Floersch, Aitken and Falb had a really strong week, running in contention for the podium in LMP2 ProAm. An unlucky streak of events meant that Aitken could not set a representative lap time after having one lap deleted for track limits, a red flag interruption and rain to disrupt his qualifying. They started from P21 in LMP2, with pace to quickly move up the order. After two hours of racing, Floersch handed over to Jack Aitken, who navigated through the LMGT traffic and made up a few places in the overall standings. John Falb took over with 20 hours and 20 minutes to go, as the #47 now sits in P27 in LMP2, P58 overall and ninth in LMP2 ProAm. Similarly, Iron Dames had to pit as early as the third lap after Michelle Gatting picked up a puncture when she was running in P10 in GTE-Am. The Danish talent rejoined, also at the back of the class field. Iron Dames made history on Wednesday, when Rahel Frey put the pink #85 Ferrari 488 GTE in the top six, gaining access to HyperPole. She became the first woman to ever contest the HyperPole session and secured P6 on the grid. Frey, Gatting and Bovy were very strong in all practice sessions, consistently running within the top-five in class – and entered the race with high ambitions. Nothing is lost yet – Le Mans might very well be the epitome of uncertainty – but Iron Dames will have some time to make up after the early stop, which put them in P23 in class. With good lap times, Gatting was back to P21 before having to stop for fuel a little after the first hour mark. Gatting double-stinted and handed over to Rahel Frey from P19. The Swiss driver set the fastest lap for the team so far and has made up a few more positions, before Sarah Bovy climbed in the driving seat from P18.
At her first ever Le Mans 24H, Lilou Wadoux is eyeing a learning experience, as she shares the #1 Richard Mille Racing Oreca with Charles Milesi and rally legend Sebastien Ogier. Milesi narrowly missed out on a spot on HyperPole and the trio started from P7 in class. Wadoux – a brilliant driver in the Alpine Europa Cup with wins under her belt – is contesting her first season in endurance racing and continuously improving.
Milesi took the start and had a great first lap, moving into fifth place. He then continued to battle around the top-10 and, at the two hour mark, Ogier got behind the wheel for his first stint in the race in P9. After three hours of racing, the #1 Oreca continued to make progress and moved into seventh place. Milesi was then back in the car for another stint, advancing to P6 after six pit stops. The HyperCar class saw a clean start by the two leading Toyotas, as the #7 of Mike Conway led the #8 of Sebastien Buemi. Olivier Pla was quick off the line but straight-lined the first chicane and had to back off. Nicolas Lapierre, at the wheel of the Alpine, had a hard time to clear the Prema LMP2 Oreca of Robert Kubica, who had taken the lead in the messy LMP2 start and had jumped ahead of the #36 hypercar.
The #709 Glickenhaus was briefly back in the garage for a sensor change during a slow zone, also completing a driver change to Richard Westbrook. They found themselves one lap down, ninth overall, before charging back to P5, as Westbrook caught up with the Alpine of Mathieau Vaxiviere and, after a great battle, the American team got past the Alpine.
The French squad also had to serve a drive through for speeding in the pitlane and was brought in the garage after Vaxiviere struggled to restart after a pit stop.
José Maria Lopez took over the #7 after two hours and battled the sister car of Hartley; the Toyotas remained steadily in command but Hartley got back ahead into the third hour of racing. The Japanese powerhouse leads with over a minute over the nearest pursuer – the #708 Glickenhaus currently driven by Romain Dumas.
Rene Rast would receive a 1 minute stop & go penalty for the contact at the start and dropped down, as did the IDEC Sport Oreca which lost a wheel at Mulsanne and lost a lap to the class leader.
After the first pit stops, Antonio Felix Da Costa managed to get ahead of Robert Kubica and led LMP2, with the #5 Penske of Felipe Nasr in third place. The fight at the top in LMP2, though, has been absolutely amazing, as Prema and JOTA continue to follow each other at a few seconds' distance. The first slow zone of the race was brought out by the #35 Ultimate LMP2 of Jean Baptiste Lahaye, who stopped in the gravel at the Dunlop chicane.
Four hours in, it's a JOTA 1-2 with Will Stevens leading Le Mans rookie Ed Jones, ahead of Dries Vanthoor in the #32 WRT after Lorenzo Colombo dropped back in the #9 Prema. The Italian team is currently P9 with Louis Deletraz on driving duties. The two Corvette Racing led GTE-Pro from the front row in a 1-2 in the early stages, ahead of the two Porsches and AF Corse Ferraris. Antonio Garcia leads in the #63, ahead of Nick Tandy and Kevin Estre. Nicky Catsburg then got behind the wheel of the #63 Corvette, but the second one has dropped behind the two Porsches – now driven by Lietz and Vanthoor. It’s a Porsche battle so far in GTE-Am, with Julien Andlauer and Alessio Picariello trading places at the top, followed by the Team Project 1 Porsche driven by Matteo Cairoli after the first hour. The #79 Weathertech Racing entry moved into P1 after a great pass at Indianapolis on the #99 Hardpoint/Absolute Racing, but the latter dropped down the order, paving the way for the recovery of the Dempsey Proton Porsche of Christian Ried.
The Project 1 Porsche found the gravel and had to be retrieved, before making its way back to the pits with two flat tires.
It wasn’t a clean first couple of hours for the Iron Lynx, as Claudio Schiavoni spun twice and had to return to the pits in the #60 yellow Ferrari and also the #75 green Iron Lynx Ferrari hit trouble, ending at the tail end of the pack. Frederik Schandorff had an off moment in the Kessel Racing's Ferrari but managed to save it and picked up no damage.
After four hours of racing, Iron Dames are sitting P15 in class and making their way back after the unlucky start; Sophia Floersch's #47 LMP2 Oreca is running on good lap times and will have to make the most out of other teams' troubles. Lilou Wadoux still has to get behind the wheel of her #1 Richard Mille Racing's Oreca and officially make her Le Mans racing debut.