It's well into the night, and Paltalla and Belloc are lapping quickly and consistently in double stints. Most of the spectators and hangers-on have taken the opportunity to get some sleep. The garages are now calmer, the crew members are doing their best to find someplace comfortable to relax. It almost seems quiet.
By midnight, the Vettes are in eighth and eleventh. Vincent Rademecker readies himself for his "double dark." "It's no problem. The lights are good," he says. A shrug of the shoulders, the helmet is on, and he's away to take over from Markus, who emerges from the car looking as if he's ready for a repeat stint. It's all about lapping to the target time, not stressing the car or the driver.
A real rhythm emerges as the cars race through the darkness of the Ardenne. In the pits, it's all about numbers-another lap, another lap of time, the clock moving inexorably on. Pit stops become routine, just another part of the rhythm. Across the track from the pits, the thump of bass from the fairground becomes like a heartbeat as the race seems to take on a life of its own.
At 12 hours in, there's contact between Markus and the leading Phoenix Racing Aston Martin. A puncture forces a tire change, but a few laps later there's real drama. Dennis Layher is in the garage with a troubling report. "Markus is on the radio. He's in the gravel at Combe and waiting for a push." Nothing more is said. The crew is up and clearing a space. No emotion, just work.
The C5-R arrives, and there's significant damage to the front. The right rear is stripped down to repair suspension damage from the clash with the Aston. The damaged nose is removed, but the replacement will not go on. After half an hour, real frustration shows for the first time. Eight people-including the Pratt and Miller boys-are now wrestling with the recalcitrant front clip. The Americans are only there on an advisory basis, but when it comes to the crunch, they're up to their elbows in it, right alongside the rest of the team.
Finally, the nose is secure and the alignments are checked. The C5-R rejoins the race just as dawn is breaking, 75 minutes after it rolled into the pit. It's a difficult end to the night, and it finds the car down in 22nd position. Running strongly after its earlier problems, the C6.R has worked its way up to sixth, though the reality is without problems for those ahead, it will be very difficult to progress any further.
By mid-morning there is more to worry about. The gearbox on the C6.R is becoming a bigger issue. The drivers have been complaining about the shift to Fourth, and it's only getting worse. Alexandre Roberge is confident the problem is a broken tooth but feels that a lengthy gearbox change simply isn't an option at this point. Changing the gear cluster is considered as a last resort. "When we changed the cluster at Sebring, it took 28 minutes," he says. "But here, with a crew [that's] less experienced with the car, it could take double that...so we hope we can nurse it." The drivers are instructed to avoid using Fourth gear, and everyone crosses their fingers. There are still four hours to go.
With 21 hours gone, the Saleen S7R holding fifth ahead of the C6.R leaves the track. It rejoins after 20 minutes for repairs, just a lap-and-a-half ahead of the Vette. This is a welcome development. Now, there is the possibility of gaining a place, and it's a spur to keep the drivers and the crew going.
With just under an hour to go, Paltalla and Belloc take over for their final stints. The last hour is interminable. All eyes are on the timing screens. The C5-R has recovered well and is up to twelfth, while the C6.R, its gearbox holding up, seems destined to finish sixth. Then, with just half an hour to go, the Saleen comes back into the pits. This time, it's terminal.
A few brief minutes are left to the finish, and when the flag comes down, there's unbridled relief and happiness in the PSI pits. Against the odds, the team has gotten both cars across the line-in Fifth and Twelfth. After the evening's manifold travails, there's a great deal of pride in the accomplishment. Team owner Tielly is close to tears, and the look of concern he has been carrying for the last day is gone. Like the rest of us, the time for reflection will come later. For now, the drinks are on him.