Hour 23: Corvette Lead 1-2 in GT1

With just an hour to go, the Champion Racing Audi of Tom Kristensen, JJ Lehto and Marco Werner is heading for victory in the 73rd Le Mans 24 Hours

Hour 23: Corvette Lead 1-2 in GT1

They were finally given a chance to breathe easy with an hour and a half to go, when Jean-Christophe Boullion brought the chasing Pescarolo in for an unscheduled stop and the car was promptly jacked up and wheeled into the pit garage.

The Pescarolo Sport crew dived into the sidepods, pulling debris out of the radiator ducts, most likely a legacy of having pulled off the grilles at the opening of the ducts a couple of hours earlier to try and avert overheating problems.

Erik Comas took over and returned to the race, but three minutes had been lost. Comas later ran wide on gravel on the track at Arnage and only just managed to steer clear of the tyre wall.

So, with the pressure off, the number 3 Audi can back off, reduce the pressure on its no doubt tired components. Kristensen is still at the wheel and Werner is scheduled to handle the final stint.

Team-mate Lehto has turned on his famous smile, knowing that his only remaining task ought to be to lift the winners' trophy. "My job is done now, as I did a lot of stints in the middle of the race," said Lehto. "So, we'll bring Tom in and then Marco will finish it off."

Frank Biela is running third in the second Champion Racing Audi, four laps down on the Pescarolo but a lap and a bit ahead of Franck Montagny.

One of the best stories of the race was the form of the Team Jota Zytek. It had risen as high as fifth, but had slid back to eighth overall by the time that John Stack handed over to Sam Hignett. And it was Hignett who understeered across the gravel trap at Indianapolis and nosed into the tyrewall. He was freed from the trap by the marshals and returned to the pits.

"We lost our clutch at midnight and then had only first to fourth gears from half an hour later," explained Hignett. "I got jammed in fourth and could do nothing other than go straight on. We'll try to fix it so that we can get out and finish, but it's not safe as it is."

Several other cars had also gone off at Indianapolis, and Allan McNish offered an excuse that they'd probably all like to use: "The track surface is breaking up at Indianapolis and there are stones on the track at Arnage." Among those who fell was the Racesport TVR with Richard Stanton bouncing the black and yellow T400R across the gravel trap to nudge the tyre wall. With an hour and five minutes to go, the Seikel Motorsport Porsche copied him.

Corvette Racing's number 64 Corvette C6.R, with Oliver Gavin driving, is looking set for glory in GT1 as Aston Martin was hit with double trouble in the space of a minute. First Turner came in out of schedule to have ice thrown into the cockpit as his cool suit had failed. Moments later, it got worse for the fans of the British Racing Green DBR9s as Enge's slowed then stopped, its engine dead, possibly out of fuel.

The Cirtek Ferrari provided a little variety when Christophe Bouchut brought it in with a puncture. This wasn't because it was rare to have one. Indeed, it was far from rare, due to soaring temperatures and sharp gravel thrown onto the track as people ran wide. However, where it differed was the fact that it was to the right rear tyre rather than the usual left rear failure suffered by almost everyone else.

Numerous troubles afflicted the LMP1 entries of Joao Barbosa and Andy Wallace, and they found themselves having to work their way back up the order from the tail of the top 20. Barbosa's Rollcentre Racing Dallara had been hampered with front hub problems.

1988 Le Mans winner Wallace was having to make up ground lost when there was a lengthy pitstop to repair damage when Jamie Campbell-Walter was caught out by the dusty state of the track and slammed the DBA4 into the tyre wall at the first chicane.

The battle for LMP2 had looked as though it was in the bag for the number 37 Paul Belmondo Racing Courage of Didier Andre, Paul Belmondo and Rick Sutherland, when with just one hour and 50 minutes to go Tommy Erdos gyrated the chasing RML Lola into the gravel trap at the Ford chicane.

He'd been five laps adrift but had been taking more than a dozen seconds per lap, pushing hard in the hope that the Courage would stumble. Trouble was, it was his own rear suspension that failed. Then, with an hour and five minutes to go, just after setting off from the pits, Belmondo's Courage slowed and is limping back to the pits. If the problem can't be fixed quickly, victory might yet go to RML who are back on track with Tommy Erdos on a charge.

Only in the final hours of the race has any gap of note opened out between the two Porsches fighting for GT2 honours, with Mike Rockenfeller more than 2m54s clear of Jorg Bergmeister, putting Alex Job Racing into pole position to win the day.

Pos # Drivers Make Class On Hour 23
1 3 Lehto, Werner, Kristensen Audi R8 LM P1
2 16 Collard, Boullion, Comas Pescarolo Judd LM P1
3 2 Biela, Pirro, McNish Audi R8 LM P1
4 4 Montagny, Gounon, Ortelli Audi R8 LM P1
5 64 Gavin, Beretta, Magnussen Corvette C6-R LM GT1
6 63 Fellows, O'Connell, Papis Corvette C6-R LM GT1
7 10 Lammers, Julian, Bosch Dome Judd LM P1
8 59 Brabham, Sarrazin, Turner Aston Martin DBR9 LM GT1
9 58 Enge, Kox, Lamy Aston Martin DBR9 LM GT1
10 9 Hignett, Stack, Kurosawa Zytek 04S LM P1
11 12 Schwager, Frei, Vann Courage Judd LM P1
12 71 Hindery, Rockenfell., Lieb Porsche 911 GT3 RSR LM GT2
13 90 Bergmeist., Long, Bernhard Porsche 911 GT3 RSR LM GT2
14 50 Goueslard, Dupard, Vosse Ferrari 550 Maranello LM GT1
15 80 Overbeek, Pechnick, Neiman Porsche 911 GT3 RSR LM GT2
16 76 Dumas, Dumez, Narac Porsche 911 GT3 RSR LM GT2
17 7 Minassian, CampbellW., Wallace DBA Judd LM P1
18 18 Short, Barbosa, Ickx Dallara Judd LM P1
19 61 Fomenko, Vasiliev, Bouchut Ferrari 550 Maranello LM GT1
20 72 Policand, Campbell, Alphand Porsche 911 GT3 RS LM GT2
21 89 Nielsen, Thyrring, Ehret Porsche 911 GT3 RSR LM GT2
22 37 Belmondo, Andre, Sutherland Courage C65 Ford LM P2
23 25 Erdos, Newton, Hughes Lola MG LM P2
24 36 Gosselin, Ojjeh, Sharpe Courage C65 Ford LM P2
25 83 Collin, Felbermayr, Shep Porsche 911 GT3 RSR LM GT2
26 30 Bennett, Mitchell, Mullen Courage Judd LM P2
27 95 Hartshorne, Stanton, Johnson TVR Tuscan 400 R LM GT2
28 24 Terada, Roussel, Binnie WR Peugeot LM P2
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Hour 22: Kristensen Pushing On
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