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Kobayashi Leads Opening Hour; Toyota Settles into Early 1-2

Toyota settles into early 1-2 at Fuji as Kobayashi leads opening hour from pole…

Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Kamui Kobayashi consolidated his pole position to lead the opening hour at the 6 Hours of Fuji, as Toyota Gazoo Racing settled into an early one-two.

Kobayashi, driving the No. 7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid, made a strong start from the front of the Hypercar grid while his teammate Sebastien Buemi slotted into second behind the wheel of the sister No. 8 car.

The closely-matched Toyota drivers then built a gap of around 15 seconds over the third-placed Alpine A480 Gibson that started third in the hands of Andre Negrao.

The only on-track positional change in Hypercar during the first hour was a switch between the two Peugeot 9X8s.

Jean-Eric Vergne started the No. 93 car ahead of James Rossiter in the No. 94, but the latter showed considerably more pace in the stint and moved ahead after 20 minutes.

At that stage, Rossiter had 7.5 seconds to make up to Negrao, but reduced the deficit to around three seconds when the Hypercar contenders made their first pit stops of the race just before the end of the hour.

The No. 94 Peugeot then advanced to third at the opening round of stops.

Vergne, meanwhile, appeared to be struggling with his Peugeot and fell away from the podium battle.

Sean Gelael took an early lead in the LMP2 class, while Jonathan Aberdein made an impressive recovery charge after being turned around on the opening lap.

Gelael moved the No. 31 Team WRT Oreca 07 Gibson to the front on lap 1, moving past JOTA driver Roberto Gonzalez.

Further back in the pack, Aberdein’s No. 28 JOTA Oreca was struck by the Algarve Pro Racing car of Steven Thomas, who locked up into the sharp Turn 10 right-hander.

Aberdein lost several positions while Thomas’ car returned to the pits for extensive repairs on a broken upright, followed by a one-minute stop and hold penalty.

The JOTA driver then made several overtaking moves, including getting past both United Autosports cars, until he was in second behind Gelael after the pit stops.

In GTE-Pro, James Calado and Kevin Estre battled for the lead in their Ferrari and Porsche machinery.

Calado blasted past Estre on the first run down to Turn 1, but the Frenchman fought back and out-braked Calado into the right-hander at the end of the long main straight 15 minutes in.

Around 15 minutes later it was Estre’s turn to go on the defensive, with Calado muscling his No. 51 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo past on the straight.

Miguel Molina then made it a Ferrari one-two as he repeated Calado’s move on Estre at the same place, despite being squeezed close to the pit wall.

The No. 91 Porsche 911 RSR-19 and the No. 64 Chevrolet Corvette C8.R both received and served drive-through penalties for abusing track limits.

Local driver Tomonobu Fujii took the GTE-Am lead for Aston Martin squad D’station Racing.

Fujii, a professional driver, worked his way past the Bronze-rated front row of Ben Keating and Sarah Bovy into second. David Pittard had already done the same, hauling his NorthWest AMR Aston Martin Vantage GTE from last on the grid.

Pittard’s lead ended when he locked up into Turn 10, enabling Fujii to steal the place.

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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