We’re only one hour into the Le Mans 24 Hours and already there’s been plenty of drama up and down the field. The huge returning crowd trackside has been treated to a thrilling start to this one.
Up front, perhaps unsurprisingly it’s a 1-2 for Toyota, with the No. 8 GR010 HYBRID of Sebastien Buemi holding the lead from pole position until the first stops, when the No. 7 of Mike Conway managed to leapfrog the sister car into the lead. Buemi was unable to build any sort of lead in the opening stint, complaining of oversteer on the radio which saw him have a moment in the Porsche Curves, touching the gravel a few laps before the car’s first stop.
Behind, the two Glickenhaus 007 LMHs are running in formation in third and fourth, the No. 708 leading the No. 709, the pair getting past the Alpine, which after another pre-race BoP change is struggling for pace and actually fell behind the early LMP2-leading PREMA ORECA on the opening lap. Heading into Hour 2 though, Lapierre is back up to P5.
LMP2 is the class that has seen the most drama so far. And it began right at the start of the race, with a collision involving the No. 22 United ORECA and the No. 31 and No. 41 WRT ORECAs as the cars headed through the kink before the Dunlop bridge. The three cars (while running four wide) made contact, Rene Rast swiping Will Owen in the No. 22, damaging the nose of the car and sending him flying into the gravel.
An early handicap for United Autosports’ No. 22… Rainier Ehrhardt/Motorsports Images
The stewards eventually penalized Rast and the No. 31 crew with a one-minute stop-go penalty. This had made for a tough start to the race for WRT, as the No. 41 also received damage from the contact and needed to pit for a tire change and rear-end change.
“At the start there was a lot of confusion — difficult to say what happened. There was no contact. Rene didn’t do anything wrong but we have to respect the decision of the stewards,” Vincent Vosse, WRT’s team boss, said when asked about the penalty.
As well as WRT’s race being hampered already, this incident also cost United Autosports dearly. The No. 22 is now two laps down after being extracted from the gravel, limping back to the pits and undergoing a service. To make matters worse for Richard Dean and Zak Brown’s team, the No. 23, which was running in and around the top 5 during the hour, also hit trouble. The car had to make an unscheduled stop shortly after Alex Lynn pitted for the first time for a puncture, the team taking the chance to add more fuel and change all four tires. The car is now down to 20th in class and out of sync in the pit cycle.
With multiple contenders already in trouble, the running order looks like this. The No. 38 JOTA ORECA of Antonio Felix da Costa is leading after a clean, strong first 60-minutes, the team leapfrogging the No. 9 PREMA ORECA at the first stops.
Robert Kubica, tasked with driving the PREMA car in the opening hour, is now down to second after a rocket start, which saw him take the class lead on lap 1 from row 3 on the LMP2 grid, even squeezing past Lapierre in the Alpine for a brief time.
The top three is completed by the second JOTA ORECA, the No. 28 of Jonathan Aberdein. Just outside the top three, meanwhile, is Penske’s ORECA which has quietly risen up the order under the control of Felipe Nasr, who climbed all the way to third but fell to fourth right at the end of the hour, after a battle with Aberdein.
WRT’s No. 32 entry of Mirko Bortolotti is fifth.
Further down the order, the No. 47 Algarve Pro 07 Gibson also hit trouble. Stewart Cox’s team, which have been working around the clock to rebuild a car from scratch for much of the week, were forced into action right after the start yet again, after the temperatures trackside and a slow formation lap combined to cook the No. 47’s gearbox actuator, causing Sophia Floersch to stop out on track after the start and limp back to the pits for repairs. It’s going to be a long race now for the No. 47 crew, for while it is back running, it is now laps down on the leader.
The GTE Pro class, in its final year at Le Mans, unlike the LMP2 division, was static and quiet in the opening hour, with the cars on the entry all ending up relatively spread out in GTE terms as the hour wore on.
Into Hour 2 it remains a Corvette 1-2, with the No. 64 of Nick Tandy holding a 2.6-second lead over Antonio Garcia in the No. 63 C8.R The No. 92 Porsche, with Kevin Estre at the wheel, is third, and a further four seconds adrift after the seven cars in the class all made their first tops.
GTE Am, on the other hand, was frantic. The pole-sitting No. 61 AF Corse Ferrari of Vincent Abril was unable to maintain the lead at the start and had to make way for the gaggle of Porsches behind which made their way to the front and made it a Porsche 1-2-3-4-6 by the end of the opening stint.
Leading the race is Alessio Picariello in the Hardpoint 911 after the first stops, the Belgian keeping it clean and picking off multiple drivers in the opening laps en route to the lead. The No. 46 Team Project 1 Porsche is second after a strong drive by Matteo Cairoli in the opening laps which saw him reel in early leader Harry Tincknell (No. 77 Dempsey Proton) and make a nice pass for the lead.
The No. 79 WeatherTech Porsche is third, with Tincknell down to fourth after struggling for pace and losing multiple places before the first stops. The first of the other manufacturer teams is the Northwest AMR Vantage of Nicki Thiim, which is fifth and splitting up the five-car Porsche train. The No. 88 Dempsey Proton Porsche is sixth, with the pole-sitting No. 61 AF Corse Ferrari of Abril now down to P7.
There were no major incidents in Am during the hour, although the No. 85 Iron Dames Ferrari was the first car in the class to hit trouble, with Michelle Gatting suffering a puncture, forcing an early unscheduled stop.