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24H Le Mans

Hirakawa Leads at Halfway for No. 8 Toyota Crew

Ryo Hirakawa out front in No. 8 Toyota at midway point; Porsche leads GTE-Pro…

Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Ryo Hirakawa led the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the halfway mark for the No. 8 Toyota Gazoo Racing crew, with the Japanese manufacturer running in first and second.

Hirakawa stood 19.7 seconds clear of fellow Toyota driver Kamui Kobayashi, 12 hours into a race that has so far been run without any safety car periods or Full Course Yellows.

The No. 709 Glickenhaus 007 Gibson ran two laps off the leaders in third, as the highest-placed and least problematic of the non-hybrid contenders in the Hypercar class.

The two Toyota GR010 Hybrids were evenly matched from the start, running nose-to-tail at times and swapping the lead both on track and during pit sequences, until a localized slow zone period created some separation with almost nine hours on the clock.

Jose Maria Lopez in the leading No. 7 car became caught in the slow zone for debris but Brendon Hartley encountered no such delay after pitting one lap later.

That discrepancy thrust the No. 8 Toyota into a lead of 28 seconds, undoing the work of Lopez’s co-driver Mike Conway to close down and pass Sebastien Buemi.

Lopez reduced the deficit to Hartley by almost 10 seconds in the first half of the 10th hour, only for Hartley to push on and restore the gap.

The difference between the Toyotas hovered between 20 seconds and half a minute through the 11th hour and continued in that vein after Hartley and Lopez handed their cars over to Hirakawa and Kobayashi respectively.

Ryan Briscoe held third in the No. 709 Glickenhaus, which had a largely trouble-free opening half bar an early sensor change.

The same could not be said for the incident-affected No. 708 Glickenhaus and the Alpine A480 Gibson from Alpine Elf Team.

The No. 708 car held third place, aided by an early sensor change on its sister car, for seven hours until Olivier Pla spun into the right-side barriers at Tertre Rouge.

That promoted the No. 709 Glickenhaus into third, although the No. 708 had recovered to sixth overall by the halfway mark.

Alpine, however, languished in 22nd overall and nine laps off the lead after a torrid opening four hours that included two long pit stops to solve mechanical issues.

JOTA commanded the opening half of the LMP2 contest with its No. 38 Oreca 07 Gibson driven by Will Stevens, Antonio Felix da Costa and Roberto Gonzalez.

A combination of strong pace across the driver lineup and rivals losing ground due to slow zone periods helped give the British squad a three-minute halfway advantage.

Louis Deletraz featured in second for Prema, with the No. 31 Team WRT Oreca in third after Robin Frijns helped to bring that car back into the mix following an early 60-second penalty for causing an accident at the start.

Oliver Rasmussen overtook Team Penske’s Felipe Nasr just before the midway point to set JOTA’s No. 28 Oreca in fourth.

The No. 92 Porshe 911 RSR-19 of Kevin Estre, Michael Christensen and Laurens Vanthoor emerged as the car to beat in GTE-Pro after the previously dominant No. 63 Chevrolet Corvette C8.R dropped out of contention with a rear suspension issue.

The Porsche has consistently led, while second place has swapped between the No. 91 teammate RSR and the No. 64 Chevrolet Corvette C8.R due to different stint timings.

At the halfway stage, Estre led by 1-minute 40s from Nick Tandy in the Corvette and Ferrari’s James Calado, with Frederic Makowiecki fourth in the No. 91 Porsche.

However, the No. 91 Porsche has been cycling back into second when the two cars ahead of it come in to pit.

GTE-Am gradually tightened up after WeatherTech Racing’s No. 79 Porsche broke away into a clear lead during the opening stanza.

With a pit stop due, TF Sport Aston Martin driver Henrique Chaves led on 12 hours following a strong set of stints from his factory co-driver Marco Sorensen.

Cooper MacNeil was shown in second but was the net leader for the Proton-assisted WeatherTech squad, with Martin Rump third for Absolute Racing.

Two off-track moments for Michael Fassbender — the first an incident that yielded a penalty for another car and the second a spin at Dunlop — resulted in the Hollywood actor’s No. 93 Proton Porsche losing 11 laps to the GTE-Am leader.

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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