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Lopez in Front at Halfway as Sister Toyota Hits Trouble

Toyota leads at Monza but with only one car in contention after No. 8 hits issues…

Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Jose Maria Lopez maintained the No. 7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid’s 6 Hours of Monza lead through the halfway mark, however the Japanese manufacturer’s sister No. 8 car dropped out of contention following a succession of problems.

Lopez’s starting co-driver Mike Conway held a 40-second lead over Alpine’s Matthieu Vaxiviere at the end of the second hour, only for the Englishman’s advantage to be erased by a safety car period due to debris between the second Lesmo and Ascari.

Lopez took the reins of the pole-sitting Toyota after two hours and 30 minutes, a few minutes after the restart, and set about creating a 24-second lead over the Alpine A480 Gibson during the next half-hour of running.

Toyota held a one-two in the opening hour, but that order disappeared when Brendon Hartley’s No. 8 car started running slowly with the New Zealander citing a lack of power.

Hartley returned to the track after four and a half minutes of repairs, but had a couple of significant lock-ups into Turn 1 which prompted a return to pit lane for further examination of an apparently unrelated issue that required a front-left corner change.

Toyota sent its No. 8 back out, only for fuel pressure problems to arise. The combination of setbacks saw the championship-leading car plummet 16 laps behind the No. 7.

Those problems enabled Alpine to inherit second, although Vaxiviere was coming under pressure from Glickenhaus driver Franck Mailleux approaching the halfway point.

The No. 709 Glickenhaus SCG 007 LMH had a slow second stop when Richard Westbrook handed over to Mailleux, giving Alpine some breathing room, but the Frenchman used the safety car to get back within sight of the ORECA-built grandfathered LMP1 car. 

SCG’s sister No. 708 car fell away from the Hypercar pack in the first half of the race due to mechanical problems, leaving three Hypercar entries without any issues.

In LMP2, United Autosports lost its opening-hour advantage to a slow pit stop which put the No. 31 Team WRT Oreca 07 Gibson into the class lead.

But the order shuffled around during the safety car phase when WRT pitted right as the intervention occurred.

United’s Oreca driven by Filipe Albuquerque emerged in the lead after the pit stops had shaken out, while WRT’s Charles Milesi was down in fifth. Racing Team Nederland driver Paul-Loup Chatin was around 10 seconds behind Albuquerque in second place.

The GTE-Pro category saw a handful of positional changes during the opening half between the factory crews from Porsche and Ferrari.

Kevin Estre led the opening hour for the former, but his co-driver Neel Jani was overtaken by Ferrari’s James Calado into the first chicane shortly after the safety car ended.

Jani slipped back to third as his Porsche teammate Richard Lietz also squeezed past, but was back at the front by the end of the third hour courtesy of a faster third pit stop.

Early GTE-Am leader TF Sport saw its No. 33 Aston Martin Vantage GTE drop out of contention after suffering a left-front tire delamination as Ben Keating was leading.

The damage from that incident, which occurred right in front of two battling GTE-Pro cars, triggered the first and so far only safety car of the event.

Team Project 1 Porsche driver Egidio Perfetti led the Am class at halfway, from Alessio Rovera in the No. 83 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo and Andrew Watson on board the D’station Racing Aston Martin which is run by TF Sport.

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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