In contention for the podium after a superb comeback, Alpine Elf Endurance Team had to deal with several setbacks during the 24 Hours of Le Mans night.
The n°35 Alpine A470 spent 17 minutes in the garage after an incident involving Memo Rojas while the n°36 continued its push in an action-packed race.
At half-distance, the team's two trios were eighth and twelfth in the LMP2 category.
In the aftermath of their incredible comeback, which saw the Alpine A470s move up to the first two positions in LMP2 from the back of the grid, the two crews kept attacking until new showers as darkness settled over the Circuit de la Sarthe.
Olli Caldwell quickly came in for rain tyres and accelerated the ascent of the #35 Alpine. The Brit demonstrated his seriousness and intelligence as he overcame the first evening traps to position in the top three before a trip through the gravel trap to avoid a GTE Am. Meanwhile, Matthieu Vaxiviere also switched to the grooved tyres and put in a generous effort before both men opted for slicks at the right moment to consolidate their places at the top of the leaderboard.
Shortly before midnight, Olli Caldwell handed over to Memo Rojas, but the Mexican driver became the collateral victim of a multi-car incident ahead of him on the approach to a slow zone. The n°35 car returned to the garage, where the Alpine Elf Endurance Team mechanics carried out a lengthy 17-minute intervention to repair the front half-axle, the rear end and other bodywork components. André Negrão returned to the track, as did Julien Canal in the n°36 car during another safety car period.
In the middle of the night, the two crews suffered further setbacks. The n°35 was penalised one minute for his involvement in a collision during the pile-up while the n°36 made an emergency refueling pit-stop due to a poorly timed full course yellow.
Full of self-sacrifice and determination, Les Bleus continued their conquest of the slightest position in total darkness until Olli Caldwell and Charles Milesi took over. Halfway through the race, the n°36 Alpine A470 was in eighth position - having gained 15 places since the start - while the n°35 was in 12th place despite losing three laps due to the damage caused by the midnight incident.
"We were having a fantastic race and were solidly in the top five until the incident when a Toyota and a Ferrari got together. I haven't seen any replays yet, but I know I had nowhere to go. I tried to avoid them, but there wasn't any room. It's tough to swallow as the team was doing a fantastic job and all our hard work was wiped out by the mistakes of other competitors. We're behind now, but we'll continue to push hard to the finish."
"This centenary has lived up to everyone's expectations, with so many twists and turns! The race has been intense since the start, and we had a bit of a setback with Julien. We were a bit unlucky not to be in the right windows for the full course yellows, but we're surviving, as we did when the rain came down hard when we were on slicks. We're staying on course, and now we have to do everything we can to avoid mistakes and see where we end up at the finish."
Philippe Sinault, Alpine Elf Endurance Team Principal
"The early part of the night was tricky. Olli put in an excellent stint in the n°35 on a wet track, which then dried out. He was the first to switch to slicks in very wet conditions, but that helped us gain a lot of time and put us in the lead group. Unfortunately, Memo got caught up in a collision at the entrance to a slow zone. The repairs and penalty pushed us down the order, but we're still in the race, thanks to everyone's efforts. As for the n°36 car, we lacked pace in the rain but managed to limit the damage, and a lot can still happen in the second half of the race. We've been through everything since the start, so anything is possible if we survive!"
Alpine Elf Endurance Team n°35
André Negrão – Olli Caldwell – Memo Rojas
Start: 19th / H+6: 10th / H+12: 12th
Alpine Elf Endurance Team n°36
Matthieu Vaxiviere – Charles Milesi – Julien Canal
Start: 23rd / H+6: 13th / H+12: 8th