Toyota in control in hour six at Le Mans

The Toyota LMP1 class racer at Le Mans. Photo / Supplied
The Toyota LMP1 class racer at Le Mans. Photo / Supplied

A frantic first hour, heavy squalls and crashes in the next hour and drama aplenty through the first punishing six hours of the race: the first quarter of the 24 Hours of Le Mans has resembled a sprint race, but Toyota's TS040 hydrid race car remains in control.

The opening laps of the race saw Toyota 1-2 until the chasing Audi pack put massive pressure on the flying TS040 Hybrid race cars of Alex Wurz (No.7) and Nicolas Lapierre (No.8). The sheer speed of the leaders saw them into lapped traffic at the end of the third lap of this 13km road circuit.

Rain fell at the beginning of the second hour, and the crashes began. Racing on slick tyres, the field found visibility cut dramatically as they sliced through the heavy rain storms that were falling on parts of the circuit.

Lapierre fell afoul of the deluge when he encountered a group of slower cars and spun the No.8 car through the pack - missing every car - but damaged the nose and front left wing of the car, ending against the armco. The No.3 Audi was less fortunate, hit from behind by a Ferrari and shunted off the track into withdrawal.

Lapierre was able to limp the No.8 Toyota back to the pits with a flat left front tyre for extensive repair efforts. The No.8 car rejoined but was ten laps down and in 43rd place.
The Porsche No.20 of Timo Bernhardt had dropped back but as the race went 'green' was on a charge up to the leaders and with a driver change Kiwi Brendon Hartley entered the race, the Porsche taking the lead on lap 49.

For Toyota, Stephane Sarrazin joined battle with Hartley. The pair took turns at the front between their stops before Sarrazin crucially pulled off a 15-second stop to go into a five second lead during a pitstop cycle.

The Toyota TS040's position at the front then became even more secure, as Hartley had to make an unscheduled stop with what he suspected was a puncture.

Benoit Treluyer came up to second in the #2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro, while Hartley briefly lost third to the #1 Audi of Lucas di Grassi - which passed the Porsche with ease on the start-finish straight before pitting shortly afterwards.

Treluyer was unable to match Sarrazin's pace, allowing the Toyota to extend his lead to more than 50 seconds towards the end of the hour.

At hour six, Toyota continued to lead the race with Stefane Sarrazin in the leading No.7 car. Sarrazin had edged the leading TS040 HYBRID's advantage up to one minute over the No.2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro of Benoit Treluyer, but that was reduced by around 25 seconds when Toyota decided against that strategy, instead putting on fresh tyres as Kazuki Nakajima took over from Sarrazin towards the end of the hour.

Brendon Hartley's Porsche 919 Hybrid and Lucas di Grassi's Audi traded places depending on their pitstops, with the #20 919 being out of sync after stopping with its suspected puncture earlier in the race. Hartley went off toward the end of his stint and Mark Webber has now taken over the No. 20 car.

The race heads into the dark - but even at 10pm, there is still a twilight look to the sky due to the longer days of the northern hemisphere summer.

- NZ Herald

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