Photo: Kurt Bradley
We didn’t so much cruise through the night at the Circuit de la Sarthe so much as we stumbled through it, crashing toward daybreak in a smoldering blaze of not-quite-glory. We’ve had fires. We’ve had crashes. We’ve had some drivers capitalizing on the shenanigans. Welcome to Le Mans.
First off, we had an onboard fire as Giedo van der Garde was at the helm of the No. 29 Racing Team Netherland Dallara. He wasn’t injured, thankfully, but he had to pit the car while they sorted out the damage. After a ten minute delay while they made sure all systems were go, van der Garde was back on track.
And within five minutes of van der Garde’s spicy disaster, Jose Gutierrez in the No. 40 G-Drive/Graff Racing ORECA lost control of his car in the Porsche Curves. He whacked into the wall backwards pretty hard. The impact was so hard that he lost his rear wing and he shot back out into the track, facing backward.
Gutierrez was out of the car by his own accord, but the car definitely didn’t get the same treatment. The Mexican driver was classified as the sixth official retirement of the race, bringing out a yellow flag as the car was moved off the track.
A bad race for Jota got even worse when Weiron Tan’s No. 37 ORECA spun on the Corvette Curve. The car spun on the inside of the corner and ended up on the gravel trap on the outside because he tried to turn himself around. Spoiler alert: he did a pretty bad job of it. Trying to turn around there is like trying to bang a uey on a highway at rush hour. They had to enforce a slow zone and bring out the crane to get Tan’s car off the track.
And Andy Priaulx in the No. 67 Ford lost concentration for juuuuust a second in the Mulsanne Corner. He ended up spraying gravel right into the path of the leading LMP2 G-Drive car—unintentionally, of course, but still a pretty big annoyance if that was your race at stake. At the very least, it just goes to show the toll that this race takes. After fourteen hours of cars on track and quite a few of cars on track at night, fatigue is quick to set in. I’ll bet Priaulx is looking forward to the sunrise to shake things up a bit.
There was bad news for the No. 24 Jackie Chan DC Racing Ligier Gibson, too. The race car doctors diagnosed the poor vehicle with engine troubles, and we had to say goodbye to our seventh retirement. Which really blows, because the lineup was stacked: it included ex-Pirelli World Challenge driver Come Ledogar, IMSA Lexus GTD racer David Heinemeier Hansson, and the legendary IMSA DPi champion Ricky Taylor.
As the trouble bug bit victim after victim, things started to get extra spicy for one particular team—except, in the good way.
Yeah, yeah, we’re gonna talk about Toyota. But as the leaders of the race, it’s kind of impossible not to. The gap between the No. 7 and No. 8 has been shaved down to way less than a minute. Like, eleven seconds. That’s a pretty considerable difference, considering that at the halfway mark of the race the No. 8 was trailing by over two minutes.
And, yeah, okay, Fernando Alonso was behind the wheel. My heart is with you if you’re also suffering from Alonsomania fatigue, but there is admittedly a reason why he’s the only driver in, like, forever to race in Formula One and the World Endurance Championship in the same season.
We won’t dwell on it for too long. We will say, though, that the battle for the lead is shaping up to be as exciting as it can be with Toyota essentially running the show, and that it’s going to be great watching battles take place in other classes as the cars (and drivers) experience the wear and tear of twenty four hours at high speed.
Let’s get silly.