Alpine’s Nicolas Lapierre led the opening hour of the FIA World Endurance Championship 8 Hours of Portimao after consolidating his pole position in the opening stint.
Lapierre made a decisive getaway aboard the No. 36 Alpine A480 Gibson and established an advantage of around nine seconds over Sebastien Buemi’s No. 8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid in the first stint.
The Frenchman then pitted after 29 laps, freeing Buemi to run at the head of the field for seven laps before pitting and handing the lead back to Alpine Endurance Team.
After the first round of pit stops, and at the top of the second hour, Lapierre had around 6.5 seconds in hand to Buemi with Jose Maria Lopez a further 4.5 seconds back in third aboard the No. 7 Toyota.
The new Glickenhaus SCG 007 LMH ran among the LMP2 competitors in the opening stint with Richard Westbrook at the wheel, and was almost one and a half minutes down on the leaders when it came in to pit shortly after the Toyotas.
Giedo van der Garde seized the LMP2 class lead at the second corner when pole-sitter Tom Blomqvist was turned around by his JOTA teammate Antonio Felix da Costa.
Team WRT’s Robin Frijns also got through and tailed van der Garde through to the first round of pit stops.
Frijns even got alongside his Dutch compatriot at the Turn 10 right-hand kink and briefly took the lead at the subsequent right turn, but ran too deep and ceded the position.
Phil Hanson was third for United Autosports, ahead of Roberto Gonzalez who took over the No. 38 JOTA Oreca 07 Gibson from da Costa at the first pit cycle.
In GTE-Pro, Kevin Estre led in the No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR-19 from James Calado’s No. 51 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo.
Behind the pair, Daniel Serra muscled past Gianmaria Bruni at Turn 11 to promote the No. 52 Ferrari to third ahead of the other factory Porsche.
AF Corse Ferrari Francesco Castellacci made a strong start to lead GTE-Am by over 10 seconds from Marcos Gomes in the No. 98 NorthWest AMR Aston Martin Vantage GTE.
Castellacci and Gomes, two Silver-rated drivers, were mostly up against Bronze-rated pilots and so took an early track position advantage.
Another starting pro driver was D’Station Racing’s Gold-rated Tomonobu Fujii, who overtook Christian Ried’s Dempsey-Proton Porsche for the lead on eight minutes before being passed around 10 minutes later by Castellacci.
After several lock-ups, Fujii was forced to make an early first pit stop to replace a heavily worn tire.
Ried also encountered trouble in the first hour, after contact with Ben Keating’s TF Sport Aston Martin resulted in a spin for the German driver and a penalty for the American.