The #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 of Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi leads the 24 Hours of Le Mans after the first six hours of the race. The #7 car holds a 20-second advantage over the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid of André Lotterer, Neel Jani and Nick Tandy, with the sister Toyota #8 another 20 seconds down the road.
The race began at 3:00pm local time in searing heat, with drivers donning special cooling jackets on the grid to combat the high temperatures. An exciting opening phase saw the #4 Bykolles Enso CLM P1/01 make contact with the #9 Toyota exiting Tertre Rouge, which ultimately led to its retirement with engine damage after just 30 minutes.
Mike Conway put in a blistering opening stint, but André Lotterer in the lead Porsche kept the Englishman within his sights, and the lead battle remains finely poised after a quarter of the race. However, Porsche have been left with just a single bullet in their gun after trouble hit the #2 car of Brendon Hartley, Earl Bamber and Timo Bernhard, which spent over an hour in the pits with technical problems.
LMP2 is headed by the pair of Vaillante Rebellion cars, with the #31 machine of Bruno Senna, Julien Canal and Nicolas Prost holding a 90-second advantage over the sister #13 of Roberto Gonzalez, Simon Trummer and Vitaly Petrov. Drama hit the polesitting #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca of Roman Rusinov, Pierre Thiriet and Alex Lynn, after Rusinov made contact with the #88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing car of Klaus Bachler, Stéphane Lémeret and Khaled Al Qubaisi in the Porsche Curves. The damage at the front of the Oreca machine was too severe for the G-Drive Racing crew to continue.
GTE Pro has also provided a fascinating battle so far, with little separating all of the manufacturers at the head of the field. Marco Sørensen had led the race away in the #95 Aston Martin Vantage, but he suffered a cruel puncture and slipped down the order. Sørensen’s misfortune handed the lead to teammate Daniel Serra in the #97 machine, who currently leads the class at the six-hour mark. The #67 Ford GT is running in second position, just 25 seconds down on the lead car in class.
The #82 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488, which finished second here last year, had been running well, but a serious incident with the #28 TDS Racing machine, for which the LMP2 car was given a seven-minute penalty, vaulted #82 driver Pierre Kaffer into the guard rails on the Mulsanne Straight.
Aston Martin also lead the GTE Am class, with the #98 car of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Matthias Lauda having inherited the lead after problems hit the polesitting #50 Larbre Competition Corvette C7.R, which was forced to pit and lost two laps as a result. The #84 JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 is just 14 seconds behind in second position.
Images © WEC-Magazin / Walter Schruff / Ton Kerdijk