As the third hour ticked by, Simon Pagenaud led Motul Petit Le Mans ahead of Filipe Albuquerque’s AXR Cadillac and Olivier Pla in the #77 Mazda, while Jesse Krohn’s BMW headed GT Le Mans.
Polesitter Acura Team Penske’s Dane Cameron surged into a 1.6sec lead after just one lap, led the race from teammate Ricky Taylor at the start with Action Express Racing’s Felipe Nasr third in the Cadillac DPi-V.R chased by the Mazda RT24-Ps of Harry Tincknell and Tristan Nunez, and the Wayne Taylor Racing of Ryan Briscoe.
However, before 15mins was up Tincknell suffered a complete brake failure that required the #55 Mazda to get taken behind the wall to have its rotors replaced, losing five laps before resuming.
Not long after, Gabriel Aubry went off at Turn 1 in his JDC Miller Motorsports Cadillac, triggering the first caution of the day, a flurry of pitstops and the #85 getting taken behind the wall for fitment of a new front end.
Following the restart, Cameron swiftly pulled out a 3sec lead over Taylor, who came under pressure from Nasr and Nunez, while Sebastien Bourdais had moved the #5 JDC Miller Caddy ahead of Briscoe’s similar car.
After one hour of the 10-hour race, Cameron’s margin over Taylor was 11.5 seconds, as the #7 Acura remained just ahead of the battling Nunez and Nasr, with the Mazda having just moved ahead of the Whelen Engineering Cadillac into the final podium spot while they battled through GT traffic. Nunez then pulled four seconds clear of the ex-F1 drier within just a couple of laps.
Cameron pitted after 51 laps and 68mins, handing off to Juan Pablo Montoya, and Nunez stopped on the same lap to be replaced by Oliver Jarvis. Next time by, Taylor was in to give the wheel to Helio Castroneves, while Nasr (handing over to Pipo Derani) and Bourdais stopped (and stayed aboard) a lap later. Final DPi to stop was Briscoe a lap later and like Bourdais, he stayed aboard. Losing out in this sequence was the #7 Acura, Castroneves emerging behind both Jarvis’ #77 Mazda and Derani’s AXR Caddy. Just past the 90min mark, Briscoe displaced Bourdais for fifth and inched away.
At the next round of stops, AXR got its Cadillac ahead of the #77 Mazda into second place, while Castroneves lost another place down to fifth (behind Scott Dixon who’d taken over the WTR Cadillac), after striking the #25 BMW, and requiring a new nose on the Acura. Loic Duval, meanwhile, replaced Bourdais in the #5 JDC Cadillac. After 2hr10mins, Castroneves moved back ahead of Dixon but was still half a minute off his class-leading teammate Montoya who held a 7sec lead on Derani who was a similar distance ahead of Jarvis.
Just past the 2hr35min mark, the DPi cars stopped, Montoya passing the baton to fellow former IndyCar champ and Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, while Filipe Albuquerque took over the #31 Cadillac, Olivier Pla took the wheel of the Mazda #77, but Castroneves stayed aboard the #7 in order to triple-stint.
Pagenaud’s initial caution in traffic and gentle warming of the tires allowed his lead to dip below 2sec at one stage, but as the race ticked by the 3 hour mark, he had pulled out 9sec on Albuquerque who was now struggling to hold off Pla’s Mazda, with Castroneves a further 11sec back, just as the next round of pitstops arrived.
Pagenaud retained his lead, and Albuquerque remained a fraction of a second ahead of Pla, while Alexander Rossi took over from Castroneves, Renger van der Zande replaced Dixon, and Tristan Vautier took the wheel of the #5 from Duval.
In LMP2 Patrick Kelly of PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports led Rob Hodes in the Inter Europol Competition entry with the Tower Motorsports by Starworks entry of John Farrano in third, although the IEC car got a drive-through penalty for leaving the pits with equipment still attached and fell to third and a lap off the pace. At the next round of stops, Scott Huffaker took over the lead car, with Job van Uitert in the Tower car. Austin McCusker remained a lap down trying to recover from its earlier penalty, while Colin Braun had been installed in the #38 Performance Tech Motorsports machine, trying to recapture a lap or two of the 3 laps it had lost with a rather leisurely co-driver.
After three hours, Simon Trummer kept the PR1 Mathiasen car in the lead, now a lap ahead of Farano in the Tower car.
GT Le Mans
The two Rahal Letterman Lanigan-run BMW M8s of Connor De Phillippi and John Edwards surged to the front, with the Porsche 911 RSR of Laurens Vanthoor also deposing class polesitter Antonio Garcia in the #3 Corvette C8.R who had steered clear of trouble on the opening lap. The first caution of the day, however, saw Corvette Racing put the Spanish star back up front ahead of Vanthoor, and Tommy Milner into third. Edwards was now fourth ahead of Nick Tandy’s #911 Porsche and De Phillippi.
Garcia saw his lead reach almost 3sec during the stint of Vanthoor by the time they pitted again, Milner a similar distance behind the #912 Porsche in third, but the BMWs – now both ahead of Tandy’s Porsche – were more than 10sec from the class lead.
Tandy handed off to Fred Makowiecki after 83mins, while the remaining cars in class went almost 10mins longer. Milner went a lap longer, delivered a strong in-lap and out-lap Corvette Racing got him up into second ahead of the #912 Porsche now driven by Mathieu Jimenet, and only half a second behind the sister Corvette now driven by Jordan Taylor. Makowiecki now split the BMWs, Jesse Krohn in the #24 car and Colton Herta in the #25 car. The latter was some 40sec back however after a very long stop – possibly caused by damage from Castroneves – and Herta would have to bring the car back in after just 25mins.
Its sister car was flourishing, by contrast, as Krohn not only passed Jaminet’s Porsche, he took both Corvettes in the space of one lap to take the lead as the C8.Rs battled through GTD traffic (and occasionally got messed around by slow drivers in LMP2 machinery). The M8 pulled some 3.5sec clear but the two ’Vettes and the #912 Porsche remained locked in battle, and Milner slotted ahead of teammate Taylor just a few laps before their next stops.
Makowiecki’s off-strategy sequence paid off at this stage as he moved the #911 into second at the next round of stops, behind Marcel Fassler who had taken over the #4 Corvette from the highly impressive Milner. In fact, the Porsche driver passed the Corvette, but both fell victim to the charging BMW of Krohn, who rubbed with Mako as he completed the pass. Fassler, suddenly demoted to third, did stay ahead of teammate Taylor, however and remained in Makowiecki’s wake. Meanwhile, a problematic driver change from Jaminet to Earl Bamber left the #912 Porsche 20sec adrift of this excitement and in fifth.
From the start Jeff Westphal steered the Ferrari 488 of Scuderia Corsa into the lead ahead of Frankie Montecalvo in #12 Lexus RC F of AIM Vasser Sullivan, Madison Snow in Paul Miller Racing’s Lamborghini Huracan, and polesitter Shinya Michimi’s Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX which had started on pole.
With PMR keeping an eye on Michelin Endurance Cup points, Snow was pulled into the pits early, which meant he stayed out and took the lead when his rivals were pulled in under the first caution. His nearest pursuer was Michimi, while in third Lars Kern took over from Zacharie Robichon in the Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911, Cooper MacNeil had replaced Westphal and now ran fourth, with Montecalvo’s Lexus leading Dillon Machavern in the Turner Motorsports BMW M6.
PMR remained off-strategy and Snow handed over to Bryan Sellers at the next stop, but Matt McMurry who replaced Michimi stayed within two seconds in the MSR Acura. Both Cooper MacNeil and Kyle Kirkwood (third man in the #12 Lexus) got ahead of Kern soon after the stops.
Machavern, however, tumbled to 12th in class so that Trent Hindman ran sixth in the Heinricher/MSR Acura, ahead of Heart of Racing’s Aston Martin Vantage (Darren Turner), John Potter’s Magnus Lamborghini and Gar Robinson’s Mercedes AMG GT3 of Riley Motorsports, although the latter pair soon fell victim to the flying Wright Motorsports Porsche of Jan Heylen.
Following the next round of stops, Corey Lewis was in the PMR Lambo and remained in the lead but came under pressure from Mario Farnbacher who’d taken over the #86 Meyer Shank Acura. Some 17sec further back, Alessandro Balzan ran third in the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari, while Kirkwood was in fourth, only a second ahead of the Pfaff Porsche of Dennis Olsen. Around 20sec in arrears was Misha Goikhberg in the second MSR Acura, trying hard to stave off Roman De Angelis who was now steering the Heart of Racing Aston Martin.
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