Toyota and Ferrari locked in two horse race at Le Mans

© XPB 

Daybreak at the Circuit de la Sarthe saw a close two-way battle for the lead of the centenary running of the Le Mans 24 Hours race between Ryo Hirakawa's #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing and James Calado's #51 Ferrari Af Corse hypercar.

There had been dramatic developments just before midnight local time when the sister #7 Toyota was caught up in a multi-car incident while being driven by Kamui Kobayashi, and forced to retire with extensive damage.

That resulted in a prolonged safety car period while the cars were involved were retrieved, debris cleared up and the barriers attended to. The running order also had to be adjusted after a mix-up in releasing cars from pit lane in the right order.

The #94 Peugeot 9X8 driven by Nico Muller found itself unexpectedly in control of the race during the full course caution period, but when the race resumed it was the #8 Toyota that soon moved to the front.

Antonio Giovinazzi had put Ferrari ahead by the midway point of the race, until Hirakawa's team mate Brendon Hartley contributed a huge stint behind the wheel in the middle of the night to put Toyota in front by nearly 17s.

Giovinazzi fought back and had reduced the lead to 3.5s, only to lose out to a slow pit stop when he handed over to Pier Guidi who then lost time in a slow zone triggered by the demise of Tomonobu Fujii's D’station Aston Martin.

Currently two laps behind the lead pair is the #2 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn followed by the sister #3 car driven by Sebastian Bourdais and Scott Dixon.

The lead Peugeot is now the #93 car shared by Jean-Eric Vergne and Paul di Resta. in fifth ahead of the two Glickenhaus entries. The #5 Porsche Penske Motorsport entry and the #50 Ferrari and #94 Peugeot rounded out the top ten.

The LMP2 category is in the hands of the #34 Inter Europol Competition Oreca driven by Albert Costa running in 11th overall ten laps behind the overall race leader, despite co-driver Fabio Scherer having injured his foot.

The #47 Cool Racing car had been at the front when Reshad de Gerus suffered a huge shunt at the Porsche Curves and did extensive damage to the left hand side of the car. Ben Barnicoat also shunted the #80 AF Corse at the same spot.

The #41 Team WRT fronted by Robert Kubica together with the #30 Duqueine Team entry are currently on the same lap as the #34 giving chase. The class leader in GTE-Am was the #33 Corvette Racing after Jonas Ried’s #88 Proton Porsche crashed heavily at Indianapolis.

The #24 Hendrick Motorsports converted stock car racing under the NASCAR banner with a driving team consisting of Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Jenson Button was still running in the morning in a respectable 30th overall, keeping company with the GTE-Am frontrunners.

As well as the #7 Toyota, retirees in a high-attrition race so far include Jan Magnussen in the #32 Inter Europol, and Daniil Kvyat who spun into the barriers in the #63 Prema shortly after 1am, incurring extensive damage to the car.

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