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Toyota Edges Alpine in Opening Le Mans Practice Session

Lopez makes late-session bid to displace Alpine at top of timing charts in FP1…

Photo: MPS Agency

Jose Maria Lopez submitted the fastest lap of the opening Free Practice session for this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans as Toyota Gazoo Racing edged Alpine to the top spot.

Lopez brought the No. 7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid that he shares with Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi to the head of the 62-car order with a time of 3:29.309 that came with half an hour left in the three-hour Wednesday afternoon session.

It beat the No. 36 Alpine A480 Gibson of Andre Negrao to the top spot by 0.086 seconds.

The Argentine was the only Hypercar driver to make a notable improvement in a final hour that was interrupted by a red flag and a pair of Full Course Yellow slow periods.

The red flag, which lasted 20 minutes, was caused by an accident involving JOTA LMP2 driver Antonio Felix da Costa and Cetilar Racing’s Antonio Fuoco at Tertre Rouge.

The two FCYs were caused by stoppages for the DragonSpeed Oreca 07 Gibson and the JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE Evo, at Dunlop Bridge and Mulsanne respectively.

Lopez’s leading time pushed the Alpine grandfathered LMP1 to second in the leaderboard, with less than a tenth separating the two Hypercar-class vehicles.

Negrao set a 3:29.395 just after the halfway mark to provisionally take the top spot in the Signatech-run car.

The Brazilian’s 0.001s edge over Kazuki Nakajima, who set the early pace in the No. 8 Toyota, remained until the end of the session and separated second place from third.

United Autosports LMP2 driver Phil Hanson was fourth-quickest overall, as two cars from the second-tier prototype category out-paced the two Glickenhaus 007 Pipo LMHs.

Hanson was one of the first drivers to set a quick time, and remained at the sharp end of both the LMP2 and overall order for the remainder of the session courtesy of his 3:29.441 half an hour into proceedings.

Hanson’s near-one second advantage was shaved down in the closing minutes of the session by Nyck de Vries, who posted a 3:30.094 to go second-quickest in class for G-Drive Racing’s No. 26 entry.

That improvement dropped the two Glickenhaus Hypercar-class machines to sixth and seventh, with the American constructor running either side of a second off the outright pace in FP1.

Richard Westbrook delivered the 3:30.216 that initially put the No. 709 Glickenhaus second in Hypeercar and third overall, before improvements from other cars shuffled it down the order.

Olivier Pla, who led the test day on Sunday, was responsible for the 3:30.325 in the No. 708 non-hybrid Le Mans Hypercar.

A late flyer from Tom Blomqvist set the No. 28 JOTA Oreca in eighth overall and third in LMP2, ahead of the No. 41 Team WRT entry and the No. 48 car from IDEC Sport.

In addition to the final-hour red flag, the session was thrust into a stoppage right after the start when Marco Sorensen clipped the pit exit wall in his High Class Racing LMP2.

That caused teams to wait for around 10 minutes before track action got fully underway.

FP1 also included an incident between LMP2 competitors Frits van Eerd and John Corbett at Dunlop, and two spins into gravel traps for the No. 60 Iron Lynx Ferrari.

Serra Top After Late Flurry in GTE-Pro

A series of quick times late in the session resulted in changes to the established GTE-Pro order, with Daniel Serra ultimately coming away with the fastest lap for Ferrari.

The Brazilian driver steered the No. 52 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo, which led for most of the afternoon, to a time of 3:50.123 which resisted Nick Tandy’s fast run in the No. 64 Chevrolet Corvette C8.R.

Tandy got close to leading FP1 but came up four-hundredths of a second short, while Gianmaria Bruni also turned up the wick in the latter stages to bring his No. 91 Porsche 911 RSR-19 up to third.

Bruni settled on a 3:50.488, which along with Tandy’s time contributed to the No. 51 Ferrari of James Calado slipping from second to fourth.

The improvements dipped the GTE-Pro pace number under that of GTE-Am, after Matteo Cairoli set a strong time of 3:50.193 for Team Project 1 early in the session.

Cairoli’s No. 56 Porsche ended up third in the overall GTE stakes, with the Italian being beaten only by Serra and Tandy in factory machinery.

Porsche entries finished 1-2-3-4 in Am as GR Racing, Dempsey-Proton Racing’s No. 88 car and Absolute Racing, which is supported by Proton, backed up Cairoli.

The top GTE-Am Ferrari was the Kessel Racing/Car Guy machine on a 3:51.911 from Scott Andrews.

RESULTS: Free Practice 1

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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