Toyota dominates the night as Nakajima puts #8 ahead

Le Mans: Sebastien Buemi (SUI) / Kazuki Nakajima (JPN) / Fernando Alonso (ESP) #08 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota
© XPB 

After 18 hours of racing, Toyota continued to control the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours through the night, having so far dodged the technical gremlins that blighted their previous campaigns as they near completing 300 laps.

The #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing was out in front for most of the night, thanks to a mammoth spell behind the wheel for Mike Conway. Its lead was further enhanced when the sister #8 car was hit by a 60 second stop-go penalty when Sebastien Buemi was judged to have gone too fast in a slow zone.

When he took over in the car, an impressive Fernando Alonso worked hard to close the gap to the leading Toyota. The two-time champion was clearly feeling happy with his efforts, radioing in to the Toyota engineers: "Tell me if you want another stint, I’ve got into the rhythm of the night!"

As daylight returned to Le Mans, the #8 pitted first while the #7 lost time with a number of slow zones for a spate of first light incidents which included Ben Hanley going off in the Porsche Curves causing heavy, race-ending damage to the #10 Dragonworks BR1

Closing the gap put Kazuki Nakajima into the perfect position to get the jump on Kamui Kobayashi at Mulsanne corner, and the #8 was finally back in the lead. That advantage looked in jeopardy when the car was hit by a second speeding penalty, Buemi once again the culprit, but that was neutralised when the #7 was similarly penalised.

The penalties didn't affect the overall race situation, with the two #3 and #1 Rebellion Racing entries much too far back to take any advantage. Both cars had suffered a series of technical glitches during the night and were ten laps down on the works hybrids.

The #17 SMP Racing LMP1 car had been running in third place at midnight when it snapped out of control in the high-speed Porsche Curves and went rear-first into the tyre barrier. Driver Matevos Isaakyan worked feverishly to removed the damaged bodywork and limp back to pit lane, but when he finally got moving there was a fire in the engine bay that triggered the on-board extinguishers and put an end to the car's campaign.

The sister #11 car was still running, despite losing two hours and going 50 laps down as a result of a prolonged spell in the garage with sensor issues. Although it was now little more than a test session for the team, Jenson Button and his co-drivers Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin clearly relished the opportunity to get some night racing experience under their belts.

With the LMP1 field depleted, the LMP2 class leaders were running up in fifth place over all behind the Rebellions. Jean-Eric Vergne and co-drivers Andrea Pizzitola and Roman Rusinov had continued to impress overnight at the wheel of the 26 G-Drive Racing Oreca Gibson to retain the class lead, while the #23 Panis-Barthez Liger had moved ahead of the #36 Signatech Alpine.

In 20th place overall, the leading GTE-Pro was the #92 Porsche 'Pink Pig' which had moved ahead of the sister #91 car now helmed by Gianmario Bruni. They retained a comfortable advantage over Dirk Muller who had taken over driving duties from Sebastian Bourdais in the #58 Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA entry.

Despite some overnight dramas, the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche 911 RSR was leading the GTE-Am category. It held a strong lead over the Ferraris of the #54 Spirit of Race driven by Giancarlo Fisichella, and Jeroen Bleekemolen in the #85 Keating Motorsports.

The weather now looks set fair for the remainder of the event. It had been feared that storms might hit the Circuit de la Sarthe over the course of the night, but in the end the inclement conditions never materialised.

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