The 87th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours got underway at 15:00 local time. After 6 hours of racing the #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López is leading the way. Despite some rain drops around the race track, rain is not leaving a mark on the race.
18 hours to go | 96 laps complete | 20:57 local time
LMP1 | LEADER: #7 TOYOTA GAZZO RACING / JOSÉ MARÍA LÓPEZ
Toyota has been leading the Le Mans 24 Hours since the start this afternoon. The German-Japanese squad had to fend off a skirmish from the #3 Rebellion Racing on the first lap as Gustavo Menezes slipstreamed his car into second place momentarily on the long road from Le Mans to Mulsanne. Sébastien Buemi in the #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid, however, put the full might of his 1000hp-strong Toyota on display as he drag-raced the privateer Rebellion R13-Gibson out of Mulsanne Corner, successfully retaking second place before the end of the opening lap.
Buemi slotted in behind team-mate Mike Conway in the #7 Toyota, following the Brit for the next few hours with the gap between Conway and Buemi slowly growing to a minute before Kamui Kobayashi and Fernando Alonso took over in respectively the leading and second-placed cars. Jóse María López (#7 Toyota) remains in the lead, with Kazuki Nakajima (#8 Toyota) just a minute behind.
In the fight for third place Rebellion has managed to keep a hold of the final podium position despite Vitaly Petrov in the #11 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1-AER attempting to get passed.
The sister Rebellion Racing has lost several positions in the opening hours of the race due to a puncture.
LMP2 | LEADER: #36 SIGNATECH ALPINE MATMUT / ANDRÉ NEGRÃO
Signatech Alpine Matmut and G-Drive Racing are going head-to-head in LMP2. The French team took the lead at the start and had been leading for a while until youngster Job van Uitert grabbed first place shortly after 18:00 CET. A penalty for a Full Course Yellow violation added a mandatory 10 seconds to the next pitstop of the #26 G-Drive Racing Aurus 01 of Van Uitert, however, forcing the Dutchman to bridge the gap in the hour that followed and do it all again after his next pitstop. The Dutchman meanwhile has handed over to the car to Roman Rusinov who fought tooth to nail to keep André Negrão in the Signatech Alpine behind him but yielded to the Brazilian as they went side by side over the Hundaudières straight.
Behind the #26 G-Drive Aurus the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing holds third.
GTE-PRO | LEADER: #92 PORSCHE GT / DANIEL SERRA
The battle between the GT factory teams rages on. After a thundering first hour which saw Antonio García in the #63 Corvette C7.R pushing into the lead with a don’t-blink overtake on the Nicki Thiim-driven #95 Aston Martin Racing Vantage GTE at the fast Indianapolis.
Despite heavy resistance, García and co-pilots Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller held off most attacks. Not until four hours into the race did Rockenfeller relegate out of the lead in favour of Daniel Serra in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE, who in their served a slightly longer pitstop than the #92 Porsche 991 RSR of Laurens Vanthoor to give the Porsche squad their turn at the head of the GT field. Serra regained the lead when he jumped Vanthoor at the end of a Safety Car situation.
The pole-sitting #95 Aston Martin has dropped back far down the field, characteristic for the struggles the British team is facing with the cars’ balance later on in their stints.
Marcel Fässler has the doubtful honour of suffering the first heavy crash of the race. The Swiss driver of the #64 Corvette C7.R got tagged by the GTE-Am class #88 Proton-Dempsey Porsche 991 RSR of Satoshi Hoshino in the fast Porsche Curves, smacking into the wall.
GTE-AM | LEADER: #85 KEATING MOTORSPORTS / FELIPE FRAGA
American team Keating Motorsports – the only privateer racing a Ford GT, is currently leading the GTE-Am class but are out of sync with the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 991 RSR that is on an orthodox pitstop strategy. The Felipe Fraga-driven Ford GT was brought to the front of the field in the early stages by Jeroen Bleekemolen. Early race leader #88 Proton-Dempsey Porsche 991 RSR with Satoshi Hoshino at the wheel spun while slowing down for a Full Course Yellow, heralding a series of mistakes and eventually forcing the Porsche into the pits for repairs.
The title-fighting #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE inherited the lead but had to let the #77 Dempsey-Proton through after a faster pitstop by the Porsche crew.
Photos by JP Wagner and Marcel Wulf.