–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.
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 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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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|