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24H Le Mans

Shwartzman Out Front After Three Hours; Drama for BMW

Call to remain on slicks in wet conditions gives Ferrari Le Mans lead; No. 20 BMW crashes…

Photo: MPS Agency

Robert Shwartzman led the 24 Hours of Le Mans with three hours of racing completed after a period of intermittent rain, while BMW M Team WRT suffered a major setback when its lead car crashed at the Ford Chicane.

The No. 83 Ferrari 499P ran ahead of the Sebastien Buemi-driven No. 8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid, which moved up after Michael Christensen relinquished second when he pitted the No. 5 Porsche 963 at the end of the hour.

A decision to remain out on slicks amid rain showers during the second hour put Ferrari in control of the race, with the Prancing Horse running 1-2 before Antonio Fuoco dropped from the lead into third behind Christensen due to a longer pitstop.

While the majority of their Hypercar rivals pitted for wet tires, including the No. 6 Porsche, as well as the No. 51 Ferrari and both Toyota GR010 Hybrids, Ferrari opted to keep both Robert Kubica and Nicklas Nielsen out and not change tires.

This paid off as the rain lightened and those on wets returned to the pits for slicks, with Kubica and Nielsen engaged in a lead battle all the while.

Nielsen eventually came out on top by passing Kubica when the No. 83 car was held up by traffic out of Tertre Rouge, allowing the Dane to complete a move on the Mulsanne Straight.

A one minute and 45-second stop then saw the No. 50 car drop back into third place, where it remained until Fuoco pitted shortly before the end of the third hour.

As a result, stablemate James Calado was briefly elevated into fourth in the No. 51 car, with Fuoco still ahead of Hertz Team JOTA’s Callum Ilott and the second Toyota of Kamui Kobayashi.

The No. 20 BMW M Hybrid V8, meanwhile, has dropped away from a contending top-ten position after Robin Frijns went off at the Ford Chicane.

The Dutchman lost control of the car and made impact with the tire barrier with the right rear before continuing and bringing the wounded car back to the pits with a lap that took nearly seven minutes.

It spent a further 24 minutes in the garage for repairs and rejoined eight laps down on the leader.

In LMP2, a similar decision to remain on slicks in the rain gave defending class winner Inter Europol Competition the lead in class.

Both the Polish-flagged No. 34 Oreca 07 Gibson and the No. 10 Vector Sport machine did not pit to fit wet tires and as a result gained significant ground.

Vector initially led with Patrick Pilet at the wheel, but once Ryan Cullen was installed, the No. 10 car was caught and overtaken by Inter Europol’s Clement Novalak into the first Mulsanne chicane.

Ritomo Miyata ran third in the No. 37 Cool Racing machine, ahead of United Autosports’ Bijoy Garg and the No. 183 AF Corse Oreca driven by Nico Varrone.

Morris Schuring, meanwhile, led the LMGT3 class aboard the No. 91 Manthey EMA Porsche 911 GT3 R after race leader Esteban Masson pitted the No. 87 Akkodis ASP Team Lexus RC F GT3 to hand over to Takeshi Kimura.

Kimura rejoined the track in third position behind Schuring and Ahmad Al Harthy’s No. 46 Team WRT BMW M4 GT3, which pitted at the same time as Masson but did not complete a driver swap.

The LMGT3 class has also produced the first official retirement of this year’s race, which came when Thomas Flohr crashed the No. 54 Vista AF Corse Ferrari 296 GT3 at the Dunlop Chicane in the third hour.

Davey Euwema is Sportscar365's European Editor. Based in The Netherlands, Euwema covers the FIA World Endurance Championship, European Le Mans Series and Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS, among other series.

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