The No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid held a comfortable one-lap lead over its sister car as the 24 Hours of Le Mans settled into a rhythm heading into the long September night.
Approaching the end of hour nine, in the early stages of a 12-hour period between sunset and sunrise, Mike Conway took the reins of the first-placed Toyota from Jose Maria Lopez who had been at the wheel since the early stages of hour six.
Conway inherited the one-lap advantage over the No. 8 Toyota that Lopez chalked up near the end of the eighth hour.
Persistent issues with brake cooling resulted in Toyota bringing its No. 8 machine into the pit garage for a thorough check that cost Kazuki Nakajima around nine minutes and second place to Rebellion Racing’s Norman Nato.
This occurred under safety car conditions during a hectic period of several incidents including a heavy accident for Tristan Gommendy’s Duqueine Team Oreca 07 Gibson which went off at high speed on entry to the first Mulsanne chicane.
There was also an accident for the ByKolles Racing ENSO CLM P1/01 Gibson at the Esses which resulted in that car’s retirement and an electrical issue that put Jackie Chan DC Racing’s LMP2-leading Oreca out of contention in the second-tier prototype class.
Nakajima quickly set about catching up to Nato and the Japanese driver got ahead in the early stages of hour eight, but his crew was still left relying on an issue for their sister car to bring them back into the victory fight.
After the restart a long Slow Zone remained to facilitate the barrier repairs following Gommendy’s crash, and this operation prompted a brief third safety car in the eighth hour.
At the close of nine hours, Rebellion’s lead car was two and a half minutes behind second place with Bruno Senna driving, while Nathanael Berthon was back at the wheel of the fourth-placed No. 3 Rebellion having started that car on Saturday afternoon.
Following the issue for Jackie Chan DC Racing, the LMP2 class turned into a battle between G-Drive Racing, United Autosports and Jota Sport, which also runs the JCDCR car.
G-Drive led large portions of the race from hours six to nine but it shared this privilege with the No. 32 United Autosports Oreca since the two cars were on different pit cycles.
In GTE-Pro, Aston Martin regained the upper hand from Ferrari courtesy of Maxime Martin’s overtake on Alessandro Pier Guidi into the first Mulsanne chicane late in hour nine.
The No. 51 Ferrari that Pier Guidi shares with James Calado and Daniel Serra led through the second safety car but Lynn got ahead of Pier Guidi midway through the eighth hour.
Aston wasn’t in charge for long as Pier Guidi cycled back ahead during the GTE-Pro category’s eighth round of stops in the ninth hour, but Martin wasted no time in restoring the No. 97 car’s lead in yet another exchange of the top position.
Aston Martin’s No. 95 car has been running consistently in fourth for most of the evening, ahead of the Risi Competizione Ferrari.
Aston Martin Racing also led GTE-Am after nine hours as TF Sport, Team Project 1 and AF Corse all had cars in the mix.