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Race report
Le Mans 24 Hours of Le Mans

Le Mans 24h, H12: Porsche battles against Toyota at the halfway point

At the halfway stage of the Le Mans 24 Hours, Toyota and Porsche held sway in a tense duel at the front between Brendon Hartley and Kevin Estre respectively.

#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 - Hybrid: Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley, Ryo Hirakawa

#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 - Hybrid: Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley, Ryo Hirakawa

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

After all the rain and safety car drama of the previous couple of hours, the track dried out completely as it ticked past 1am local time on Sunday morning.
All eyes were initially on Antonio Fuoco (#50 Ferrari) and Earl Bamber (#2 Cadillac) swapping fourth place in a pulsating battle in the very small hours, exchanging the position on multiple occasions before the Italian made it stick.
At the front, the #8 Toyota of Sebastien Buemi pulled out a 20s lead over Andre Lotterer in the #6 Porsche, a gap that had been as low as 1.2s when Laurens Vanthoor was chasing Buemi at the start of hour 10. They were well clear of the third-placed #7 Toyota.
Moderate rain returned in hour 12, by which time the interval had remained static between the top two cars. The leaders pitted for wets, with Brendon Hartley taking over the #7, 16s clear of Kevin Estre in the #6 Porsche, who in turn was 42s ahead of the #7 Toyota of Jose Maria Lopez.
A brief third full-course yellow was then called at 3:13am but when it went green again, Estre charged after Hartley, taking a couple of seconds per lap out of the leader.
Just 15 minutes before the halfway point, the safety cars were called out again – just as Estre had got within 9s of Hartley. Third-placed Lopez had been well clear of the #50 Ferrari of Miguel Molina.
Hartley pitted a lap ahead of Estre, which turned out not to matter as they joined the same safety car train with Hartley still ahead.
#6 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963: Kevin Estre, Andre Lotterer, Laurens Vanthoor

#6 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963: Kevin Estre, Andre Lotterer, Laurens Vanthoor

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Two-time IndyCar champion Alex Palou stayed out and rose to third in the #2 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-Series.R. The #51 Ferrari of a charging Alessandro Pier Guidi jumped ahead of the erstwhile leading #83 499P of Yifei Ye, when the latter stayed out too long on slicks, and grabbed fourth over Lopez and Molina by staying out under the safety car.
In LMP2, the #37 Cool Racing Oreca that had been leading was spun by Ritomo Miyata just after the start of hour 10, then frontrunner Patrick Pilet was handed a drive-through penalty for a slow-zone infringement in the #10 Vector Sport entry.
Even more drama happened when David Heinemeier Hansson crashed the second-placed #24 Nielsen Racing into the #77 Mustang at the Esses, depositing them both in the gravel. 
All that promoted the #183 AF Corse of Nicolas Varrone and Nolan Siegel in the #22 United Autosports car to the front of the field – although Siegel pitted just as the safety car was called, dropping him to fourth behind the #37 Cool car and #34 Inter Europol entry.
Heinemeier Hansson returned to the track only to go off again, at the Porsche Curves this time, just before Colin Braun lost a left-rear wheel from the #45 Crowdstrike by APR entry.
In the LMGT3 class, one of the main players from earlier in the race – the #66 JMW Ferrari – ground to a halt in the Porsche Curves at the start of the 10th hour and Salih Yoluc just couldn’t persuade it to restart.
In another blow for Ferrari’s hopes in this class, Jordan Taylor – who had recently entered the mix in Spirit of Race’s Ferrari 296 – was pounded into the gravel trap at first Mulsanne chicane by Gregoire Saucy’s McLaren 720S, although the stewards called it as ‘no further action’.
More big news occurred with a drive-through penalty for the erstwhile class leader Klaus Bachler in the #92 Manthey PureRxing Porsche 911 for a slow-zone infringement. That put it into second behind the sister #91 car and embroiled it in a fight with the #78 Akkodis ASP Lexus of Kelvin van der Linde.
As the rain returned, the #92 car held sway once more with Joel Sturm leading the #91 of Morris Schuring. Nicolas Costa ran third on the #59 United Autosports McLaren, ahead of a pair of Lexuses.
Costa stayed out as the Manthey cars pitted under the safety car to claim the lead for McLaren at the halfway point, but then dropped back to third again when he pitted a lap later.

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