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Buemi Leads for Toyota After Opening Hour in Bahrain

Sebastien Buemi five seconds clear of Neel Jani after the opening hour in Bahrain…

Photo: Vision Sport Agency

Toyota Gazoo Racing leads after the opening hour of the FIA World Endurance Championship season finale in Bahrain, enjoying an advantage of five seconds over Porsche.

Timo Bernhard made a good start in the No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid to move into second place behind pole-sitting teammate Neel Jani, only to start dropping back when an errant bollard became wedged underneath his car following a safety car period.

Bernhard was forced to pit after just 15 minutes for a nose change so the bollard could be removed, dropping the No. 2 Porsche back down the field and leaving the sister car to fight the Toyotas alone.

Jani was able to keep both Sebastien Buemi and Mike Conway at bay through the early stages, only for Buemi to get a good run coming into the final corner with half an hour gone to seize the lead of the race.

The three leading manufacturer LMP1 ran nose-to-tail on track for a short period before Buemi managed to surge clear in the No. 8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid, with Conway also battling his way past Jani, albeit with minor contact as they went side-by-side through Turn 12.

Jani stayed in touch with the leading Toyotas before making his first stop at the end of Lap 29, taking fuel only.

Toyota responded by pitting both Buemi and Conway one lap later, putting them on split strategies. Buemi took fuel only and was able to reclaim the lead, sitting five seconds clear of Jani.

Conway was swapped out of the No. 7 Toyota in favor of Jose Maria Lopez, who emerged back out on-track in fourth, just behind Bernhard, who he soon passed.

Vitaly Petrov rose from fifth on the grid to lead the LMP2 class at the end of the first hour for CEFC Manor TRS Racing in the No. 25 Oreca 07 Gibson, rocketing through the order during his first stint.

Petrov was able to overtake his way up to second in class before getting the jump on Nico Lapierre in the No. 36 Signatech Alpine entry through the pit stops, who in turn dropped back after a slow service.

Title contenders Jackie Chan DC Racing and Rebellion Racing saw their cars take the championship fight on-track, running P2 and P4 in class with Oliver Jarvis and Bruno Senna respectively, the pair split by Manor’s Jean-Eric Vergne after he made an early stop.

GTE-Pro pole-sitter Sam Bird was able to retain his lead through the early part of the race in the No. 71 Ferrari 488 GTE for AF Corse, sitting five seconds clear of Harry Tincknell in the No. 67 Ford GT after the opening hour.

Alessandro Pier Guidi made a key pass in the title race for AF Corse, taking fourth from Marco Sorensen to put himself and James Calado in position to win the GTE-Pro championship should the result remain stable through the final five hours.

The pole-sitting No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage GTE in GTE-Am was left to fight back through the field after a slow start for Mathias Lauda saw him drop to fourth in class.

Keith Sawa led the early part of the race in the No. 61 Ferrari for Clearwater Racing, pitting on the hour to allow Lauda, who had fought his way back up to second, to move into the lead.

Luke Smith is a British motorsport journalist who has served as NBC Sports’ lead Formula 1 writer since 2013, as well as working on its online sports car coverage.

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