24-Hour Le Mans: Quarter distance – but no quarter
From Brian Laban, in Le Mans
21.00: Some race! According to the top-of-the-hour sheets, the 17 Porsche led at the end of the first hour, the 7 Audi at the end of the second, the Porsche again at the third, fourth and fifth, but that does no justice at all to how close the fight is at the front. There have been rashes of changes between the hours, almost continuous head-to-head racing, and all the way through, the 17 and 18 Porsches and 7 and 9 and Audis have been taking turns at lowering the fastest lap – until Lotterer in the 7 Audi was the first to break the all-time race-lap mark, with that brilliant push on three-stint-old rubber.
But even that’s long gone now, as Filipe Albuquerque took the 9 Audi round in 3m 17.647 on lap 62 (less than a second slower than Neel Jani’s pole lap that set everybody buzzing in first qualifying). And the temperature is coming down while the threatened rain looks likely to pass us by for a while yet.
It hasn’t quite got us within striking distance of the outright distance record that everybody’s looking at yet, because there have been several safety car and slow zone periods. One of those caught out Duval in the 8 Audi big time as he tripped over a whole bunch of slower cars and wiped the front of the Audi but got away with losing barely a lap for a replacement.
Since then, Brendan Hartley in particular has done a mighty job in keeping the 17 Porsche in the lead, until Mark Webber just jumped into that car to lead Le Mans for Porsche as the clock ticks to the top of the sixth hour – quarter distance. But his lead has already come down from around twelve seconds to seven and a half as another hour approaches. That’s how it’s been, and that’s what seems set for a good while yet