Mike Conway’s Toyota GR010 HYBRID #7, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez led by a third, 1.2 seconds ahead of #8 sibling Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa.
Car #7 took the lead from #8 when Kobayashi cut Hirakawa in the sixth hour during a pitstop lap after their opening stint. Kobayashi then had two wild moments at dusk, on the Ford chicane and the newly renamed Daytona chicane on the Mulsanne Straight, as he extended his lead by 7 seconds.
Their positions were then reversed when the #7 lost time with slow stop tires and got stuck behind the GT car as it rejoined in Conway’s hands, so Buemi took the lead in #8.
The lead then shifted again in the Mulsanne Straight, the attacking Conway regaining top spot just before the end of the seventh hour.
Glickenhaus chased long distance, with #708 leading #709 until Olivier Pla turned the first in Tertre Rouge on an outlap – reversing their position. Pla put the #708 back into the pits to improve his left-rear suspension and dropped outside the top 15 overall.
Another hypercar, the #36 Alpine A480-Gibson, also had a terrible time. After the clutch was repaired in the fourth hour, a second long stop occurred an hour later, with the team having to remove the drain bank as they replaced the ignition coil.
Team boss Philippe Sinault explained: “The first [problem] is the clutch, the electronic box is for the clutch, and the second is the coil for the engine, which we have to change. In total we lost 23 minutes… it was like a nightmare.”
Alpine’s Andre Negrao rejoined seven laps down, and then had a wild ride through the gravel on a Porsche Curves but it continued.
#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 Hybrid from Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley, Ryo Hirakawa
Photo by: Rainier Ehrhardt
In LMP2, #38 Jota ORECA-Gibson 07 continued to spread his legs in front of the pitch as Roberto Gonzalez continued the good work of teammates Will Stevens and Antonio Felix da Costa. This is the fourth run overall due to issues for Alpine and #708 Glickenhaus.
Team Penske’s pursuit #5 ORECA driven by Felipe Nasr, Dane Cameron and Emmanuel Collard suffered an unscheduled stop for attention to the brake lines and a new nose piece after the front left tire chipped and damaged its surroundings in the sixth hour.
Prema Orlen ORECA #9 from Robert Kubica, Louis Deletraz and Lorenzo Colombo remain in the hunt. But another early front runner, Richard Mille Racing ORECA #1, suffered a setback in the fifth hour as WRC legend Sebastien Ogier earned a one-minute stop/go penalty for an unsafe pit entry penalty and forcing the car off course.
The Corvette’s grip on the GTE Pro class was shattered in this racing spell, first when Nick Tandy experienced a brake pressure problem on the #64 Corvette C8.R which resulted in an unscheduled stop.
But the bigger blow came when lead #63 suffered a left-rear suspension failure at Mulsanne while leading 17 seconds. Antonio Garcia had to drive back very slowly, and the car was in need of a long repair.
Rival Porsche suffered a less severe blow earlier when Frederic Makowiecki received a drive-through penalty in the #91 911 RSR-19 for abusing the track limit. But the trouble-free #92 of Kevin Estre, Michael Christensen and Laurens Vanthoor now holds a sizeable advantage over the pending #91.
There was also drama at Ferrari as its lead #52 AF Corse 488 suffered a front right stab at the hands of Miguel Molina. That has boosted the #51 sibling cars of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Serra – who also received a penalty for the track limit – up to third in the class behind the Porsche and ahead of the Corvette #64.
In GTE Am, the #79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 from Cooper MacNeil, Julian Andlauer and Thomas Merrill led the #77 Dempsey-Proton version from Christian Ried, Harry Tincknell and Seb Priaulx.
The #98 Northwest Aston Martin Vantage of Paul Dalla Lana, Nicki Thiim and David Pittard was third.