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24H Le Mans

Kobayashi Leads Hartley with Toyota in Control at Halfway

Toyota three laps ahead of the competition at Le Mans; Ferrari leads GTE-Pro…

Photo: MPS Agency

Toyota Gazoo Racing held a commanding one-two position at the halfway mark of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as Kamui Kobayashi led Brendon Hartley by almost two minutes.

The nearest car to the pair of Toyota GR010 Hybrids after 12 hours was the Alpine A480 Gibson of Andre Negrao who was running three laps off the pace on a recovery drive following Matthieu Vaxiviere’s eighth-hour trip into the gravel.

The No. 7 Toyota of Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez has been in control since Saturday’s 4 p.m. race start, while its sister No. 8 machine driven by Hartley, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima has largely operated as the tail gunner since Buemi’s early recovery from a first-corner spin due to contact.

Nakajima did take the lead for a short while during the ninth hour when Toyota elected to pit Lopez during the fifth safety car of the race so far.

The intervention was called after Rui Andrade crashed G-Drive Racing’s No. 25 Aurus-badged Oreca 07 Gibson into the right-side wall in the braking zone for Dunlop.

Lopez arrived in the pits after a stint that was five laps shorter than expected. After a driver change, Conway was required to wait at pit exit for the next one of three safety cars to pass before rejoining the field.

The safety car train that he joined included Nakajima, who was previously a minute and 40 seconds adrift but saw that deficit turn into a four-second lead for the restart.

Nakajima led Conway for a handful of laps until his next on-schedule pit stop, releasing the British driver back into first position.

Alpine’s recovery from eighth overall back to third following Vaxiviere’s spin included Nicolas Lapierre overtaking the Glickenhaus 007 Pipo LMH of Olivier Pla.

The French pair exchanged positions at both Mulsanne chicanes on one lap during the tenth hour, with Lapierre ultimately getting the edge to move into fourth.

He then overtook Robin Frijns’ LMP2-leading Team WRT Oreca at the Porsche Curves to complete Alpine’s rebound to the provisional podium, albeit with the Toyotas running much further up the road.

Pla’s co-driver Franck Mailleux was fourth in the No. 708 Glickenhaus, and four laps off the lead, with 12 hours of racing completed.

Milesi in the No. 31 WRT Oreca that also features Frijns and Ferdinand Habsburg led a one-two for the Belgian outfit on its Le Mans debut.

At the midway point, Yifei Ye in the No. 41 WRT Oreca was closing in on fellow Silver-rated driver Milesi.

The next car back was the No. 22 United Autosports Oreca, which had almost two minutes to make up in order to break the WRT stronghold.

Panis Racing and JOTA’s No. 28 entry, the latter pegged back by a 90-second stop-hold penalty for joining the incorrect safety car train, completed the top five.

Ferrari Leads Corvette in GTE-Pro

Alessandro Pier Guidi led the GTE-Pro class for Ferrari at halfway, with the Italian holding a net advantage of around 20 seconds over Corvette Racing’s Jordan Taylor.

The GTE-Pro lead battle tightened up in the 11th hour as Pier Guidi and Taylor were joined in battle by Daniel Serra aboard the No. 52 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo.

The No. 63 Chevrolet Corvette C8.R that Taylor shares with Nicky Catsburg and Antonio Garcia was ordered to serve a 10-second drive-through for a pit lane infringement, but remains the main threat to the two factory Ferraris that have been strong so far.

WeatherTech Racing’s Porsche 911 RSR-19 dropped out of contention when Cooper MacNeil crashed into the left-side barriers at the Ford Chicane midway through hour 11.

The two factory Porsche GT Team entries have not managed to consistently trouble the leading trio but remain on course heading into the second half of the race.

GTE-Am was led by the No. 83 AF Corse privateer Ferrari after 12 hours, with works driver Nicklas Nielsen steering the Italian team past 4 a.m. and towards dawn.

Nielsen held a one-minute lead over Felipe Fraga in the No. 33 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage GTE, while the No. 80 Iron Lynx Ferrari ran third.

Positions after 12 Hours

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

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