German Formula One driver Nico Hulkenberg took the lead for Porsche, before handing over to Nick Tandy as the battle between Porsche and Audi continued at the halfway mark of the 24 Hours Le Mans of the race on Sunday.
As the clock passed midnight Tandy led from the No.7 and No.9 Audis, with Mark Webber’s No.19 Porsche, shared with New Zealander Brendon Hartley and Germany’s Timo Bernhard, falling to fourth, after being given a ‘stop and go’ penalty for overtaking under yellow warning flags.
With less than one hour of the race gone, one of Porsche’s 919 hybrid cars – driven by Frenchman Patrick Pilet – was caught in a crash, and the race was held up briefly as a safety car came out in what proved to be an action-packed opening few hours.
The crash happened when Swiss driver Alexandre Imperatori lost control of his Rebellion Racing car at the Forza Motorsport chicane, because of oil on the track. His car hit Jonny Kane’s Strakka Racing car and impacted on Pilet, who could not get his Porsche out of the way.
Flames spewed from the back of Pilet’s car as it made its way back to the garage. With the engine broken, the race was over for Pilet and co-drivers Fred Makowiecki of France and Wolf Henzler of Germany.
With Audi and Porsche swapping the lead, Audi’s No. 8 car driven by Frenchman Loic Duval got caught out by slow zone traffic, tangled with a Ferrari, hit a crash barrier, and lost its nose, bringing out the safety car for a second time.
“I tried to slip through a narrow gap but I couldn’t quite make it,” Duval said.
Thanks to some frantic work by the garage mechanics, the car was soon back out.
After about five hours of racing, another Porsche – driven by Christian Ried – had to pull over with some flames coming out of the back.
Porsche, the most successful manufacturer at Le Mans with 16 titles, had its trio of 919 Hybrids on the top three positions of the grid after Neel Jani, Romain Dumas, and Marc Lieb posted the fastest times in qualifying.