Le Mans 2013

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A strong wind sets in during the evening and through Saturday night, lowering the temperature significantly, but this fails to dampen the spirits of the spectators as they enjoy the fairground attractions and the Earth, Wind & Fire concert that shakes the ground around the top of the Dunlop Hill.

At 10:22 p.m., and with 101 laps recorded, the #91 Porsche is first in class and the #92 Porsche lies in fourth place. A visit to the pit garage shows that Wolfgang Hatz looks very pleased with the state of play. As the night wears on into the small hours of the morning, there are some very tired pit crews, and even some team bosses take the liberty of snatching a yawn or two. However, this is Le Mans, and the teams need to grab a bit of shut-eye whenever they can to survive the full 24 hours of action. Team members cannot leave their stations in case their car is involved in an incident of some sort, because, as Hatz points out, “Le Mans is more than an endurance race; it’s actually a 24-hour sprint.”

At the halfway point, 3:00 a.m. Sunday morning, the situation remains pretty stable: Aston Martin occupies first and third place with the Porsches in second (#92) and fourth (#91). The British cars are still circulating quicker than the Porsches; a little more than half a second separates the fastest laps of the two rivals. The positions between the Aston Martins and the Porsches yo-yoes back and forth, the Porsche holding the lead for a couple of hours just before daybreak, but by breakfast the #92 Porsche is back in second place again.

A Le Mans 24-hour race can almost be divided up into sections: The first six hours are all about getting a place ahead of your rivals in the early stages, but, just as importantly, staying on track and out of trouble. The night hours from 9:00 p.m. to midnight are about building and holding that position, while the hours through to dawn are about surviving the perils of darkness (especially if it has been raining) when it is more difficult to see debris on the track or to anticipate the actions of others. During the morning hours and from daybreak through to midday, the teams work furiously to keep ailing cars patched together to see out the race, or, for those running well, ensuring that everything stays that way.

As one driver puts it, during the period from midday through to the end of the race, at 3:00 p.m., “That’s when you go racing!” There is, however, no period during the 24 hours when drivers or teams can afford the luxury of feeling the pressure is off. Too many times, a 24-hour race has been won or lost in the last few hours.

At 9:51 a.m. on Sunday, the #99 Aston Martin GTE Pro collides heavily with the barriers at the first chicane, leaving debris strewn across the road. With the car stopped in the middle of the track, the driver leaps out, runs to the side of the track, and jumps over the Armco to safety. Aston Martin’s loss is Porsche’s gain, though, as the incident virtually assures Porsche’s position at the top of the class right to the end of the race. Now the quickest car in class, the #92 car stays out front, apart from pit stops, while the lone remaining Aston Martin, now sandwiched between two Porsches, puts up a brave fight. In the 23rd hour, the #91 Porsche slips into second place, where it stays to the end.

Just as the race rhythm appears to settle back into some form of routine, with an hour and a half to go the heavens open as they only do at Le Mans. The television cameras are battling to pick up the cars in the deluge, as the combination of spray coming up from the tires and the downpour makes it almost impossible to see the cars through the enveloping gloom. The carnage starts when the #7 Toyota goes off quite hard and slides straight into a tire wall and ends up being wedged under it. Next, an LMP2 car spins and hits the barriers, and the rain is so hard that another LMP2 car strikes the stricken, rain-obscured car, which is jutting halfway onto the track. The rain lasts for 15 minutes; then the sun comes out and the weather stays dry to the end, although heavy clouds overhead still carry the threat of rain.

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