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24H Le Mans

Conway Leads from Senna in Opening Hour at Le Mans

No. 7 Toyota gets break in opening hour with quick first stop and puncture for sister car…

Photo: Harry Parvin/Adrenal Media

Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Mike Conway led from Bruno Senna in the first hour of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as the No. 8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid lost ground with an early puncture.

Senna briefly drew his No. 1 Rebellion R13 Gibson ahead of pole-sitter Conway through the first corner but the Toyota man braked later into Dunup to hold onto his lead.

The LMP1 order settled in the opening stint with Conway ahead of Senna, Sebastien Buemi in the No. 8 Toyota, Nathanael Berthon in the No. 3 Rebellion and ByKolles Racing’s Tom Dillmann.

A strategy call from Toyota to overfill its cars for the start of the race resulted in Buemi leapfrogging Senna with a shorter first fuel stop, although the Swiss driver’s gain was nullified a few minutes later when he came in again to replace a punctured left-rear tire.

This set Conway into a clear 40-second lead over Senna, while Berthon moved up to third in the sister Rebellion ahead of Buemi.

In LMP2, Filipe Albuquerque consolidated United Autosports’ pole position to keep the No. 22 Oreca 07 Gibson in front during the first stint and the opening set of stops.

Giedo van der Garde rose to second in the early exchanges before being overtaken by Alex Brundle who made it a United one-two.

Van der Garde then slowed on-track before bringing his Racing Team Nederland Oreca back to its pit garage with a water pressure issue.

Another potential class protagonist to hit trouble early on was the Signatech Alpine entry which also had a problem with its water pressure that was picked up on the opening lap.

During the pit stops Brundle fell behind High Class Racing’s Kenta Yamashita, while James Allen was also in the mix for the So24-Has by Graff squad.

GTE-Pro saw a lead change on the opening lap as James Calado planted is No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo ahead of Gianmaria Bruni’s pole-sitting Porsche 911 RSR-19 into the second Mulsanne chicane.

Calado was then in turn hunted down and passed by a charging Alex Lynn in the No. 97 Aston Martin Vantage GTE into Mulsanne corner.

Lynn led into the pit window from Calado and Nicki Thiim in the other Aston, while a slightly earlier stop benefited the No. 71 Ferrari which jumped to second after Davide Rigon swapped over to Miguel Molina under a slow zone across the start-finish area.

This came after Eurasia Motorsport’s Nobuya Yamanaka had a wild spin into the gravel at Dunlop and needed recovery.

Another incident of the opening hour concerned the No. 88 Dempsey-Proton Racing GTE-Am Porsche, which crashed into the barriers hard on the right-side coming into Dunlop, as driver Thomas Preining swerved to avoid a spinning Ferrari.

Aston Martins ran first and second in the GTE-Am opening stanza with Ross Gunn establishing the No. 98 Vantage out front ahead of TF Sport’s Charlie Eastwood.

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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