Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez led the #7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid by a third, 1.2s ahead of the #8 sister car of Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa.
The No. 7 car took the lead from No. 8 when Kobayashi undercut Hirakawa at hour 6 on the lap of pit stops after their first stints. Kobayashi then had two wild moments at dusk, in the Ford chicane and the renamed Daytona chicane, as he extended a 7 second lead.
Curiously, it was Hirakawa who was reassured on the radio towards the end of his assignment – “It’s a long race, let’s keep calm” – as his team boss led the way despite his mistakes. But their positions were switched anyway as the #7 lost time with a slow tire stop and got stuck behind a GT car as it came back into Conway’s hands, allowing Buemi to take the lead at #8.
But the lead changed again on the Mulsanne Straight, with an attacking Conway retaking the lead just before the end of Hour 7.
Glickenhaus was a long way behind, with the number 708 leading the number 709, until Olivier Pla turned the number 708 on a coasting lap at Tertre Rouge – and switched positions. Pla towed the number 708 back to the pits for left rear suspension repairs and fell out of the top 15 overall.
The other hypercar, the #36 Alpine A480 Gibson, also suffered a terrible time. After repairing the clutch at hour 4, there was a long second stop an hour later, which required the team to remove the exhaust banks while changing the ignition coil.
Team boss Philippe Sinault explained: “The first [problem] was the clutch, the electronics box for the clutch, and the second was the coil for the motor, which we had to change. In total we lost 23 minutes… it’s like a nightmare.”
Alpine’s Andre Negrao came back 7 laps down and then suffered a wild ride through the gravel in the Porsche corners but kept going.
In LMP2, the #38 JOTA Oreca 07 Gibson continued to stretch his legs at the front of the field while Roberto Gonzalez continued the good work of teammates Will Stevens and Antonio Felix da Costa. It’s fourth overall.
Pursuing Team Penske #5 Oreca suffered an unscheduled stop to draw attention to its brake ducts and a new nose section after a left front tire delaminated and damaged parts around it at hour 6.
The #9 Prema Oreca of Robert Kubica, Louis Deletraz and Lorenzo Colombo remains firmly in the running. Another early leader, number 1 Richard Mille Racing Oreca, suffered a setback at hour 5 as WRC legend Sebastien Ogier received a one-minute stop/go penalty for an unsafe pit lane entry penalty, forcing a car off track.
#92 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR LMGTE Pro driven by Michael Christensen, Kevin Estre, Laurens Vanthoor
Photo by: Marc Fleury
Disaster for Corvette in GTE Pro
Corvette’s grip on the GTE Pro class dissolved at this stage of the race, first when Nick Tandy in the #64 Corvette C8.R experienced a brake pressure issue, resulting in an unscheduled stop having to be rectified.
But the bigger blow came when the leading number 63 on the Mulsanne suffered a left rear suspension failure when they were 17 seconds ahead. Antonio Garcia had to drive back painfully slowly, and the car required lengthy repairs.
Rival Porsche suffered a less severe blow earlier when Frederic Makowiecki in the #91 911 RSR-19 received a drive-through penalty for “constant abuse” of track boundaries. But his unconcerned #92 car of Kevin Estre, Michael Christensen and Laurens Vanthoor now has a sizeable lead over the belated #91.
There was also drama at Ferrari when the leading #52 AF Corse 488 suffered a right front tire failure at Miguel Molina’s hands. This has moved the #51 sister car of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Serra to third place in the class, behind the Porsches and ahead of the #64 Corvette.
In GTE Am, the #79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 of Cooper MacNeil, Julian Andlauer and Thomas Merrill leads the #77 Dempsey Proton version of Christian Ried, Harry Tincknell and Seb Priaulx. The #98 Northwest Aston Martin Vantage of Paul Dalla Lana, Nicki Thiim and David Pittard is third.