Le Mans 24 hours: Six-hour update
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing held the advantage after the opening six hours of the 89th Le Mans 24 Hours following an incident-packed and rain-affected start at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López in the #7 GR010 HYBRID, which started from pole position, lead after a quarter of the race.
Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley recovered from the back of the field after being hit by another car on the opening lap. After six hours the #8 GR010 HYBRID was second, 1min 27.148secs off the lead.
Heavy rain in the hour before the 4pm start required two additional formation laps to allow track conditions to improve and contributed to a dramatic opening lap.
Mike led away from pole, but Sébastien was hit from behind by the #708 Glickenhaus going into the first chicane, spinning him round. He dropped to the back of the field moments later when he had to briefly stop at the side as a result of the impact.
That kicked off an impressive fight back from Sébastien, who moved the #8 back into the top 10 on the 10th lap before pitting for slick Michelin tyres. Mike took on slicks a lap later as track conditions, and lap times, improved substantially.
By the time the first pit stop cycle was complete soon after the first hour, Sébastien was up to third, around a minute behind leader Mike. A string of fastest laps helped him overtake the #38 JOTA LMP2 car for second, putting the GR010 HYBRIDs at the front of the field by lap 16.
Mike had held a comfortable lead through the first 90-minutes but the #7 car’s challenge was hampered by two rear punctures in quick succession. Neither cost any significant time, although both stints were therefore shorter than planned.
The #8 car suffered its share of misfortune too. Sébastien suffered a damaged right rear wheel rim in a clash with an LMP2 car while Brendon lost a minute to leader Kamui when held behind a different safety car following a GT accident. Then a right rear puncture forced Brendon to make an early pit stop as the five-hour mark approached and night fell at La Sarthe.
After several light showers, heavier rain struck early in the sixth hour and contributed to two accidents involving LMP2 cars which brought out the safety car again. As the track went green 25 minutes later, Brendon pitted the #8 for hybrid intermediate tyres, with the #7 doing likewise when José took the wheel.
Mike Conway (GR010 HYBRID #7): “The conditions were pretty bad in the beginning; there was a lot of rain just before the start. It was the right choice to go with wet tyres. Then it started to dry and it wasn’t easy with the tyres, I had a lot of sliding around. There were different grip levels in different parts of the track so it was very tough. It rained a little again and it’s never easy in those conditions on slicks. I just focused on driving cleanly and not making any mistakes. It was strange to have a couple of punctures because I was being careful and trying to stay away from the kerbs. I don’t think we were doing anything risky, we were just unlucky.”
Sébastien Buemi (GR010 HYBRID #8): “It was an eventful start. I got hit at the first corner and that’s the worst time and place to have an incident like that because then the whole grid comes past you. I had a couple of other dramas and it continued to be eventful because I had more contact later on. But we pushed hard to close the gap and bring ourselves back in contention. We lost time behind a different safety car just when I got out of the car but it’s a long race so we’ll see.”
Le Mans 24 Hours after 6 Hours:
#7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing
#8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing
#36 Alpine (Negrao/Lapierre/Vaxiviere)
#708 Glickenhaus (Derani/Mailleux/Pla)
#41 WRT (Kubica/Deletraz/Ye)
#22 United Autosports USA
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