Toyota Gazoo Racing held a commanding lead at the 24 Hours of Le Mans as the FIA World Endurance Championship centerpiece reached its midway point.
Jose Maria Lopez was behind the wheel of the leading No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid at the close of the 12th hour, with the Argentinian lapping one minute, 17 seconds ahead of Fernando Alonso in the No. 8 car.
A 60-second stop and hold penalty for Alonso’s co-driver Sebastien Buemi widened the gap between the two Toyotas after the No. 7 initially stole a march on its sister machine at the onset of darkness around 10 p.m local time.
At the halfway milestone, the nearest non-hybrid LMP1 car was the No. 3 Rebellion Racing R13 Gibson with Mathias Beche at the controls.
The Swiss driver was four laps down and a further two laps ahead of the No. 1 Rebellion in fourth place, driven by Bruno Senna.
Rebellion is now the favorite to pick up an overall win after a heavy crash for Matevos Isaakyan in the eighth hour formally disbanded SMP Racing’s hopes of an overall podium.
The Russian outfit’s second car has been running 51 laps off the leader, while the next-closest LMP1 independent was the DragonSpeed squad which had its Gibson-powered BR1 in 23rd position outright, 20 laps down on Lopez.
G-Drive Racing has continued to dictate the pace of the LMP2 category since taking the lead during the first round of pit stops in the opening hour.
Jean-Eric Vergne, Andrea Pizzitola and Roman Rusinov’s No. 26 Oreca 07 Gibson put a lap on the field shortly after midnight to put the trio in a commanding position heading toward morning.
The duel for second in class has fluctuated between the No. 23 Panis Barthez Competition Ligier JS P217 Gibson and the Oreca-based Signatech Alpine A470 Gibson since midway through the third hour.
After 12 hours the former was ahead, with Timothe Buret circulating 0.7 seconds ahead of an encroaching Nicolas Lapierre.
Porsche 1-2 in GTE-Pro
GTE-Pro has been comprehensively led by the No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR shared between Kevin Estre, Michael Christensen and Laurens Vanthoor since it assumed the lead during a fortuitous fourth-hour safety car.
The ‘Pink Pig’-themed car hasn’t relinquished its sizeable advantage, which stood at one minute, 53 seconds with 12 hours to go.
Almost two minutes behind was the Rothmans-liveried No. 91 Porsche of Gianmaria Bruni, Richard Lietz and Frederic Makowiecki, which led the opening stanza.
It has since climbed into the top three following setbacks for other class frontrunners, including the No. 81 BMW Team MTEK M8 GTE and the No. 93 Porsche.
The BMW lost its place in the lead battle when it underwent a brake change before picking up a penalty for its mechanics adding fuel while the car was still on its skates.
The Porsche, meanwhile, sacrificed time with an alternator change in what has been a challenging race for the CORE autosport squad, which has seen both its cars hit trouble.
Third at halfway was the No. 68 Ford GT, some 45 seconds behind Bruni’s Porsche, while the No. 52 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE ran fourth.
Porsche also held sway in GTE-Am, with the No. 77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR of Matt Campbell, Julien Andlauer and Christian Ried holding a one-minute, 50-second advantage over the No. 85 Keating Motorsports Ferrari.