Le Mans 24h, H1: Conway's Toyota leads, early drama in LMP2

Toyota's Mike Conway is leading the 88th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours after one hour of racing, while reliability issues hit two LMP2 frontrunners.

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The start of the 88th edition of the race was held without fans in attendance but with the same traditional ceremony at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Polesitter Mike Conway made a good getaway in the #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid, while stablemate Sebastien Buemi in the #8 car tried to put pressure on second-starting Bruno Senna in the #1 Rebellion.

Senna held on to second through the Esses and then proved a handful for Buemi to pass, the Rebellion being comfortably quicker on the straights. The second #3 Rebellion of Nathanael Berthon followed in fourth, with the #4 ByKolles of Tom Dillmann bringing up the rear of LMP1.

Berthon pitted early after seven laps, followed by Senna and Buemi on lap eight and leader Conway after nine tours. Thanks to a quicker pitstop by the Toyota crew, Buemi leapfrogged the Brazilian for second, while Conway comfortably kept his lead.

However, a puncture for Buemi that forced an extra pitstop dropped the #8 car back to fourth behind the second Rebellion after the first hour.

In LMP2 Filipe Albuquerque held onto the lead in the polesitting #22 United Autosports Oreca and he quickly pulled a gap to Giedo van der Garde in the #29 Racing Team Nederland Oreca, who passed G-Drive’s Jean-Eric Vergne at the start.

The pair was quickly put under pressure by fast-starting Alex Brundle in the #32 United Autosports car, who passed both Vergne and Van der Garde to put the Anglo-American outfit first and second.

The #36 Signatech Alpine, one of the contenders for the win, lost early ground when Andre Negrao disappear into the garage with a loss of water pressure. Negrao’s repairs cost him two laps.

Van der Garde similarly hit water pressure issues early on and was forced to enter the garage.

During the first set of regular pitstops, Kenta Yamashita vaulted up the order to second in the #33 High Class Oreca, around seven seconds behind leader Albuquerque. By then end of the first hour, Brundle had lost third to James Allen in the #39 Graff Oreca.

Gianmaria Bruni initially hung onto the GTE Pro lead in the #91 Porsche 911 RSR-19, but was powerless to keep AF Corse #51 car of James Calado behind. The Aston Martin duo of Alex Lynn and Nicki Thiim soon followed Calado through to occupy second and third, followed by the second AF Corse of Davide Rigon and both factory Porsches.

Lynn then blasted past Calado in his #97 Aston to take over the class lead after 20 minutes, a lead which he held after the first round of pitstops ahead of Miguel Molina in the #71 AF Corse Ferrari and Thiim.

In GTE Am, polesitting Oswaldo Negri Jr quickly fell down the order, with Team Project 1’s Porsche works driver Matteo Cairoli taking the lead. Cairoli was then overtaken by Ross Gunn in the #98 Aston Martin, who remained in the lead during the first hour. TF Sport's Charlie Eastwood occupied second at the top of the hour ahead of Cairoli.

There was early drama in the class when Negri lost the rear of his Ferrari under braking for the Dunlop chicane, which forced the #88 Porsche of Thomas Preining to take evasive action. Preining went onto the grass and was unable to prevent his car from clattering into the barriers, becoming the first retiree of the race.

Nobuya Yamanaka caused a second slow zone by spinning off at exactly the same spot in the #35 Eurasia LMP2 entry, just after Claudio Schiavoni spun off in the #60 GTE Am Iron Lynx Ferrari at the Ford chicane. The Japanese driver was able to continue.

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