Le Mans Hour 6: Toyotas Battle Porsche & Ferrari at 1/4 mark

–by Mark Cipolloni–

Just before the 1/4 mark of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Brandon Hartley in the #8 Toyota Hypercar had a 3-second lead over the sister #7 Toyota with Jose Maria Lopez at the wheel.

The #75 Penske Porsche was a close third, just 3.1s behind and just ahead of the two Ferraris – the #51 and the #50.

However, just as the clock struck the 6-hour mark, the two Toyotas ducked into the pits and the #75 Penske Porsche assumed the lead, then the Porsche pitted and the two Ferraris were out in front.

After all the pitstops, the two Ferraris were back out in front

Gustavo Menezes led the 24 Hours of Le Mans with four hours completed as the race sat under a lengthy safety car period following a downpour of rain.

Toyota Update

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing is part of a thrilling battle at the front of the field in the centenary edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours after a dramatic opening quarter of the race.

The GR010 HYBRIDs took the fight to the 14 other Hypercars, racing closely with competitors from Cadillac, Ferrari, Peugeot and Porsche in an exciting battle which ebbed and flowed throughout an incident-packed opening six hours.

The #8 GR010 HYBRID of last year’s winners Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa led in the early stages and remained firmly in the fight at the front from sixth with three quarters of the race still to run.

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing. World Endurance Championship.Le Mans 24 Hours Le Mans Circuit, France 5th to 11th June 2023

Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, in the #7 GR010 HYBRID, were just a few seconds behind in seventh as TOYOTA GAZOO Racing kept up a strong challenge for its sixth consecutive Le Mans win.

The race began at 4pm local time in front of a sell-out 300,000 crowd. Sébastien started third and Mike took the green flag from fifth. On soft tires due to rain midway around the 13.626km track, Sébastien passed the Ferraris to lead on lap one and Mike took third before a safety car period.

When racing resumed after 40 minutes, Mike was immediately on the attack. He overtook the #50 Ferrari for second while Sébastien established a small advantage at the front. As his softer tires degraded, Mike came under pressure from behind and, despite a spirited defense, he was fourth when he pitted for new rubber after an hour of racing. Sébastien followed from the lead a lap later.

An exciting Hypercar battle saw the top 10 swap positions regularly throughout the opening hours due to different tire and fuel strategies, as well as spectacular wheel-to-wheel racing.

After almost three hours, rain added to that excitement, triggering several incidents and a safety car. The GR010 HYBRIDs pitted for wet tires and a driver change, but after almost 90 minutes behind the safety car, the track dried so José and Brendon returned to the pits for slicks.

The race simultaneously went green so the GR010 HYBRIDs had to wait for all cars to pass before leaving the pit lane, costing valuable time and dropping them to the bottom of the top 10.

As different strategies played out, and slow zones or yellow flags affected the relative positions, Brendon guided the #8 back into the top six, with José close behind heading into the seventh hour.

Mike Conway (Driver, car #7): “We had a different tire strategy at the beginning because we wanted to be on the safe side considering it was quite wet at some points on the Mulsanne Straight. It worked out and we could pass a few cars in the first racing laps but then it became harder. Everyone was using the slipstream and if you could not create a gap, then it was really tough to stay ahead. I tried my best to defend but I lost a couple of places. It was really difficult to drive on slick tires in the big rain at the end of my stint, so we had to change to wets. We have stayed out of trouble, and we are in the fight, so it has been a good start.”

Sébastien Buemi (Driver, car #8): “I have never seen so many incidents at the start of Le Mans before. Our first priority was to stay on track and out of trouble, because you don’t win the race in the first hour. It was important to keep it clean and not make any mistakes. The car felt pretty good, and I think my pace was strong compared to the competition but it’s hard to see the full picture from behind the wheel. We just need to stay focused, have a clean race and then we will see on Sunday where we are.”

Porsche Update

Thanks to a clever strategy and strong performances by the works drivers, Porsche Penske Motorsport’s three Porsche 963 made up several positions in the first hour of racing.

After two hours, Michael Christensen held the lead for almost 30 minutes in the No. 5 car. In the sister car flying the number 75 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Porsche sports cars, Felipe Nasr has consistently run in the top 5.

Porsche 963, Porsche Penske Motorsport (#75), Mathieu Jaminet (F), Felipe Nasr (BR), Nick Tandy (UK)

Meanwhile, the No. 6 was hampered by a minor setback: Due to pressure loss in a tire, Laurens Vanthoor had to pit for a wheel change. The car that the Belgian shares with Frenchman Kévin Estre and German André Lotterer was around a minute behind the leaders after two and a half hours of racing.

However, the redeployment of the safety car slashed this gap to just a few seconds. All three works vehicles are within striking distance of the leading car.

“The starting phase was extremely eventful with safety car phases, slow zones, yellow flags and many incidents,” states Urs Kuratle. The Director Factory Motorsport LMDh adds: “Our three cars are in the leading group and have no technical defects or scratches. That’s the most important thing after such a turbulent start. It’s wild out there. I hope we now get a stint with a dry track so that the race can progress a little more normally.”

The Porsche 963 campaigned by the Hertz Team Jota customer team missed out on setting a qualifying lap and thus had to tackle the race from the back of the grid. However, works driver António Félix da Costa quickly worked his way up the order – and also benefited from an early safety car phase.

Heavy rain on parts of the circuit then shook up the field again and led to several slips and slides. This triggered another long stint behind the safety car. After a little more than four hours of racing, the No. 6 Porsche is running in second place behind the lead car, the No. 75 sister car is in fifth, the Jota Porsche in sixth and the No. 5 racer in tenth.

Cadillac Update

Cadillac led its first-ever laps in the 24 Hours of Le Mans on Saturday.

Earl Bamber had the distinction of driving the No. 2 Cadillac V-Series.R, to the front of the 62-car field in the second hour of the endurance classic.

#2 Ganassi Cadillac

Through six hours on the 8.45-mile Circuit de la Sarthe under changeable conditions, the No. 2 Cadillac V-Series.R was running third with Richard Westbrook behind the wheel.

The No. 3 Cadillac V-Series.R, which had to pit once to change the rear wing assembly after being clipped by a LMGTE-Am car, another time to change the front assembly after a spin in the rain — plus another time to serve a one-minute penalty for a technical infringement involving tire pressure — was running seventh with Renger van der Zande driving.

Sebastien Bourdais posted the fastest lap of the race of 3 minutes, 28.298 seconds on Lap 12.

Corvette Update

In GTE-Am, Corvette Racing on a mission – attempting to drive back through the field after a couple of issues in the opening quarter of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Ben Keating was back in for his second run the No. 33 Mobil 1/SiriusXM Chevrolet Corvette C8.R, which ran 15th in the GTE Am class as the Centenary Le Mans race entered the seventh hour. Keating, Nico Varrone and starting driver Nicky Catsburg rotated through the Corvette as dusk began to fall on the 8.5-mile track.

Corvette Racing; FIA World Endurance Championship; 24 Hours of Le Mans in Le Mans, France; June 10-11, 2023; Corvette C8.R No. 33 driven by Nicky Catsburg, Ben Keating, and Nicolas Varrone (Richard Prince/Chevrolet Photo).

Catsburg established a strong pace early from the lead before the first of two safety-car periods in the first six hours. The team elected to take fuel early to gain an advantage in the first stint and re-emerged in 12th. Disaster struck not long after as the Corvette crew had to replace the right-front damper after Catsburg radioed in that something didn’t feel right.

The service in the garage was a quick change but it still put the C8.R down two laps. Class pole-winner Keating – who got in the Corvette while the damper was still being fixed – began to claw back time before heavy rain pelted parts of the circuit.

Keating survived the deluge, and Corvette race engineers called him to the pitlane for wet tires. The race’s second safety car period came out moments later, giving the team hope of gaining a lap back because the C8.R would be ahead of the class leader in a train behind one of the three safety cars. For reasons unknown to the team, a group of cars – including the GTE Am leader – were allowed to exit pit lane before the next of the three safety cars came around. The mistake meant that the Corvette was trapped behind the class leader and couldn’t advance around the track to catch back up after all the safety car queues moved.

Undeterred, Varrone drove a speedy triple stint that saw him make up more than a half-lap on the field with times between four and seven seconds quicker than the rest of GTE Am.

Hour 6 Standings

1 75 Hypercar H Porsche Penske Motorsport Tandy Nicholas Porsche 963 74 0.000 0.000
2 51 Hypercar H Ferrari Af Corse Pier Guidi Alessandro Ferrari 499P 74 1.727 1 lap
3 50 Hypercar H Ferrari Af Corse Nielsen Nicklas Ferrari 499P 74 11.782 1 lap
4 94 Hypercar H Peugeot Totalenergies Duval Loïc Peugeot 9X8 74 18.779 1 lap
5 2 Hypercar H Cadillac Racing Lynn Alex Cadillac V-Series.R 74 52.928 1 lap
6 8 Hypercar H Toyota Gazoo Racing Hartley Brendon Toyota GR010 HYBRID 74 1:20.123 1 lap
7 7 Hypercar H Toyota Gazoo Racing Lopez Jose Maria Toyota GR010 HYBRID 74 1:22.158 1 lap
8 3 Hypercar H Cadillac Racing Van Der Zande Renger Cadillac V-Series.R 73 1:54.265 1 lap
9 5 Hypercar H Porsche Penske Motorsport Makowiecki Frédéric Porsche 963 73 1:04.335 1 lap
10 6 Hypercar H Porsche Penske Motorsport Lotterer André Porsche 963 72 2 laps 1 lap
11 709 Hypercar Glickenhaus Racing Berthon Nathanaël Glickenhaus 007 72 2:51.252 1 lap
12 93 Hypercar H Peugeot Totalenergies Jensen Mikkel Peugeot 9X8 72 12.476 1 lap
13 708 Hypercar Glickenhaus Racing Briscoe Ryan Glickenhaus 007 71 3 laps 1 lap
14 34 LM P2 Inter Europol Competition Smiechowski Jakub Oreca 07 – Gibson 71 1:00.798 1 lap
15 28 LM P2 Jota Rasmussen Oliver Oreca 07 – Gibson 71 38.846 1 lap
16 23 LM P2 United Autosports Jarvis Oliver Oreca 07 – Gibson 71 4 laps 1 lap
17 41 LM P2 Team Wrt Delétraz Louis Oreca 07 – Gibson 70 1:46.459 1 lap
18 9 LM P2 Prema Racing Ugran Filip Oreca 07 – Gibson 70 1:35.670 1 lap
19 65 LM P2 Panis Racing Van Der Helm Tijmen Oreca 07 – Gibson 70 1:37.105 1 lap
20 30 LM P2 Duqueine Team Binder René Oreca 07 – Gibson 70 2:12.013 1 lap
21 48 LM P2 Idec Sport Lafargue Paul Oreca 07 – Gibson 70 2:17.020 1 lap
22 80 LM P2 P/A Af Corse Perrodo François Oreca 07 – Gibson 70 2:19.796 1 lap
23 35 LM P2 Alpine Elf Team Caldwell Olli Oreca 07 – Gibson 70 2:24.229 1 lap
24 47 LM P2 Cool Racing Pagenaud Simon Oreca 07 – Gibson 70 3:03.811 1 lap
25 45 LM P2 P/A Algarve Pro Racing Kurtz George Oreca 07 – Gibson 70 3:13.319 1 lap
26 36 LM P2 Alpine Elf Team Vaxiviere Matthieu Oreca 07 – Gibson 70 25.339 1 lap
27 38 Hypercar H Hertz Team Jota Stevens William Porsche 963 70 33.538 1 lap
28 37 LM P2 P/A Cool Racing Lapierre Nicolas Oreca 07 – Gibson 70 40.289 1 lap
29 923 LM P2 P/A Racing Team Turkey Yoluc Salih Oreca 07 – Gibson 70 47.298 1 lap
30 63 LM P2 Prema Racing Bortolotti Mirko Oreca 07 – Gibson 70 1:09.260 1 lap
31 31 LM P2 Team Wrt Habsburg Ferdinand Oreca 07 – Gibson 70 1:09.909 1 lap
32 10 LM P2 Vector Sport Cullen Ryan Oreca 07 – Gibson 69 5 laps 1 lap
33 39 LM P2 P/A Graff Racing Pilet Patrick Oreca 07 – Gibson 69 2:26.059 1 lap
34 66 LM GTE Am JMW Motorsport Petrobelli Giacomo Ferrari 488 GTE Evo 68 6 laps 1 lap
35 54 LM GTE Am AF Corse Flohr Thomas Ferrari 488 GTE Evo 68 18.574 1 lap
36 85 LM GTE Am Iron Dames Gatting Michelle Porsche 911 RSR – 19 68 18.595 1 lap
37 56 LM GTE Am Project 1 – Ao Jeannette Gunnar Porsche 911 RSR – 19 68 20.886 1 lap
38 911 LM GTE Am Proton Competition Fassbender Michael Porsche 911 RSR – 19 68 39.516 1 lap
39 25 LM GTE Am Ort By TF Al Harthy Ahmad Aston Martin Vantage AMR 67 7 laps 1 lap
40 4 Hypercar Floyd Vanwall Racing Team Guerrieri Esteban Vanwall Vandervell 680 67 2:00.847 1 lap
41 57 LM GTE Am Kessel Racing Kimura Takeshi Ferrari 488 GTE Evo 67 2:11.620 1 lap
42 24 CDNT Hendrick Motorsports Johnson Jimmie Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 67 2:17.846 1 lap
43 98 LM GTE Am Northwest Amr Mancinelli Daniel Aston Martin Vantage AMR 67 2:58.649 1 lap
44 88 LM GTE Am Proton Competition Ried Jonas Porsche 911 RSR – 19 67 9.575 1 lap
45 777 LM GTE Am D’Station Racing Stevenson Casper Aston Martin Vantage AMR 67 10.485 1 lap
46 86 LM GTE Am Gr Racing Wainwright Michael Porsche 911 RSR – 19 66 8 laps 1 lap
47 33 LM GTE Am Corvette Racing Varrone Nicolas Chevrolet Corvette C8.R 66 2:21.547 1 lap
48 74 LM GTE Am Kessel Racing Tsujiko Yorikatsu Ferrari 488 GTE Evo 66 2:45.138 1 lap
49 100 LM GTE Am Walkenhorst Motorsport Hull Chandler Ferrari 488 GTE Evo 66 3:06.389 1 lap
50 22 LM P2 United Autosports Lubin Frederick Oreca 07 – Gibson 66 1:11.112 1 lap
51 77 LM GTE Am Dempsey – Proton Racing Pedersen Mikkel Porsche 911 RSR – 19 64 10 laps 2 laps
52 72 LM GTE Am Tf Sport Robin Arnold Aston Martin Vantage AMR 58 16 laps 6 laps
53 32 LM P2 Inter Europol Competition Fjordbach Anders Oreca 07 – Gibson 58 39.791 1 lap
54 311 Hypercar H Action Express Racing Sims Alexander Cadillac V-Series.R 57 17 laps 1 lap
55 43 LM P2 P/A Dkr Engineering Van Rompuy Tom Oreca 07 – Gibson 57 47.475 1 lap
56 83 LM GTE Am Richard Mille Af Corse Wadoux Lilou Ferrari 488 GTE Evo 33 41 laps 24 laps
57 60 LM GTE Am Iron Lynx Schiavoni Claudio Porsche 911 RSR – 19 28 46 laps 5 laps
58 16 LM GTE Am Proton Competition Hardwick Ryan Porsche 911 RSR – 19 28 9.409 1 lap
59 55 LM GTE Am Gmb Motorsport Birch Gustav Aston Martin Vantage AMR 21 53 laps 7 laps
60 21 LM GTE Am AF Corse De Pauw Ulysse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo 21 3:33.312 1 lap
61 13 LM P2 P/A Tower Motorsports Taylor Ricky Oreca 07 – Gibson 19 55 laps 2 laps
62 14 LM P2 P/A Nielsen Racing Sales Rodrigo Oreca 07 – Gibson 18 56 laps 1 lap
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