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Peugeot Leads Opening Hour at Lusail

Nico Mueller storms from sixth on grid to lead opening hour of Qatar 1812km…

Photo: Julien Delfosse/DPPI

Peugeot led the opening hour of the Qatar 1812km, as Nico Mueller jumped from sixth on the grid to grab the lead with a storming opening stint in the FIA World Endurance Championship season opener.

Mueller held an advantage of five seconds aboard the No. 93 Peugeot 9X8 over the No. 6 Porsche 963 of Laurens Vanthoor at the one-hour mark, with 34 of a scheduled 335 laps completed following the first round of pitstops for the Hypercar field.

The order was shuffled significantly at Turn 1, as the No. 50 Ferrari 499P of Miguel Molina swept around the outside from fourth on the grid to grab the lead ahead of the pole-winning No. 5 Porsche Penske Motorsport entry in which Michael Christensen took the start.

At the same time, the No. 7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid that started second slipped all the way down to seventh in the hands of Mike Conway, as Mueller gained three places to run third ahead of the two Hertz Team JOTA Porsches of Will Stevens and Phil Hanson.

The order at the front remained relatively static at the front for some laps, albeit with Christensen pressuring Molina hard, but the Danish driver got out of shape as he and Molina ran side-by-side through Turns 8 and 9, giving Mueller the chance to grab second.

Shortly after, Mueller passed Molina for the lead by going around the outside at Turn 1 and up the inside at Turn 2 and quickly establishing a lead up front before the first stops.

Molina was the first of the leaders to stop on lap 27, and it wasn’t until lap 32 that Mueller pitted, by now with a 10-second lead over the No. 38 JOTA Porsche of Will Stevens, who had successfully dive-bombed Christensen at Turn 6 for third place some laps earlier.

Mueller emerged from the pits with his lead in tact once the remaining cars pitted, but with Vanthoor, who slipped as low as eighth at the start before steadily making his way back into the top five, now his nearest rival after overcutting his way into second place with the fastest lap of the race.

Christensen held third place at the one-hour mark ahead of the two JOTA Porsches, as the customer team having elected to change both drivers at the first round of stops, Norman Nato and Jenson Button taking over from Stevens and Hanson respectively.

Molina’s early stop meant he slipped to sixth in the best of the Ferraris ahead of James Calado in the sister No. 51 499P and the third-string No. 83 AF Corse car, while Conway ran ninth in the best of the Toyotas.

Completing the top 10 was Paul di Resta in the second of the Peugeot 9X8s, the Scottish driver having recovered from 19th and last among the Hypercars after being tagged by Alex Lynn’s Cadillac V-Series.R at the first corner.

Lynn dropped well down the order having sustained front-left damage, which required Cadillac to change the nose during the car’s first stop.

In the LMGT3 class, Aliaksandr Malykhin led the way in the No. 92 Manthey-run Pure Rxcing Porsche 911 GT3 R, having passed the pole-winning No. 81 TF Sport Chevrolet Corvette Z06 GT3.R of Tom van Rompuy on-track prior to the first stops.

Ian James was second in the No. 27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 Evo, having stopped a later than van Rompuy, while Thomas Flohr made use of a similar strategy to run third in the No. 54 AF Corse Ferrari 296 GT3.

Van Rompuy meanwhile slipped to sixth place behind the No. 48 WRT BMW M4 GT3 of Ahmad Al Harthy and Yasser Shahin in the second of the Manthey-run Porsches.

There was drama early on for the No. 59 United Autosports McLaren 720S GT3 Evo, which had to spend 17 minutes in the garage following first-lap contact with the Iron Dames Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO2 of Sarah Bovy.

Jamie Klein is Sportscar365's Asian editor. Japan-based Klein, who previously worked for Motorsport Network on the Motorsport.cоm and Autosport titles, covers the FIA World Endurance Championship and SUPER GT, among other series.

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