Toyota took the lead at the eight-hour mark of the Le Mans 24 Hours, its cars swapping advantages on several occasions as each crew attempted to take the lead.
Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez led by a third with the Toyota GR010 Hybrid #7, 1.2 seconds ahead of #8 siblings Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa.
Car #7 took the lead from #8 when Kobayashi cut Hirakawa at 6 o’clock in the pitstop round after their opening stint. Kobayashi then had two wild moments at dusk, in the Ford chicane and the renamed Daytona chicane, as he extended his lead by 7 seconds.
Surprisingly, it was Hirakawa who was reassured towards the end of his radio stint – “It’s a long race, let’s keep calm” – as his team boss took the lead despite the mistakes. But their positions were reversed when #7 lost time with slow-stop tires and got stuck behind a GT car as it rejoined at Conway’s hands, leaving Buemi to take the lead in #8.
But the lead reversed again in the Mulsanne Straight, the attacking Conway regaining top spot just before the end of the 7th Hour.
Glickenhaus chased long distance, with #708 leading #709 until Olivier Pla turned #708 in Tertre Rouge in one lap – 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. Following clutch repairs at 4 Hours, 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 7 laps down, and then had a wild ride through the gravel on a Porsche Curves but it continued.
In LMP2, #38 JOTA Oreca 07-Gibson continued to stretch 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.
The chasing Team Penske #5 Oreca suffered an unscheduled stop due to attention to its brake lines and a new nose piece after the front left tire delaminated and damaged its surroundings at 6 Hours.
Robert Kubica’s Prema Oreca #9, Louis Deletraz and Lorenzo Colombo remained firmly in the hunt. Another early front runner, Richard Mille Racing Oreca #1, suffered a setback at 5 Hours as WRC legend Sebastien Ogier received a one-minute stop/go penalty for an unsafe pit entry penalty and forcing the car off course.
#92 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR LMGTE Pro from Michael Christensen, Kevin Estre, Laurens Vanthoor
Photo by: Marc Fleury
Disaster for Corvette in GTE Pro
The Corvette’s grip on the GTE Pro class was shattered in this racing spell, first when Nick Tandy suffered a brake pressure problem in the #64 Corvette C8.R, causing an unscheduled stop to be repaired.
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 “constant abuse” of 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. It has lifted the #51 sibling car of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Serra to third in its 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.