Toyota Gazoo Racing’s numbers advantage at the head of the field in the 24 Hours of Le Mans was wiped away towards the end of the eighth hour after a front motor issue emerged on the No. 8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid.
With night having now fallen at the Circuit de la Sarthe, Toyota’s No. 7 car leads the pack with Mike Conway behind the wheel, running around 40 seconds clear of the No. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid.
Toyota had been running one-two ahead of Porsche before Sebastien Buemi reported a possible mechanical problem on the No. 8 car, resulting in a lot of back and forth conversation with the pit wall as he began to lose oil.
Buemi was unable to keep on pace with Conway and at the front and soon found himself coming under pressure from Porsche’s Neel Jani behind, losing more and more time.
Toyota eventually gave the call for Buemi to pit, with the Swiss driver’s front-right wheel exuding plumes of smoke while being refueled.
The team eventually opted to put the car up on jacks and wheel it into the garage, where it remained at the top of the eighth hour, boiling the battle for overall honors down to the No. 7 Toyota and the No. 1 Porsche.
Toyota’s third car, the No. 9, is now third, one lap down on the leaders. Buemi is currently classified fourth in the No. 8, but is expected to remain in the pits for around an hour while the front motor issue is resolved.
As the LMP1 runners hit trouble, the LMP2 leaders began to edge closer to the overall podium, still headed up by the pair of Vaillante Rebellion Racing Oreca 07 Gibsons.
Nelson Piquet Jr. led in the No. 13 Oreca at the end of the eighth hour, 11 seconds clear of Bruno Senna in the No. 31, who was forced to give up the lead after a drive-through penalty for overtaking during a slow zone. Oliver Jarvis is a further half a minute back in the No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca.
Aston Martin Racing remains in control in GTE-Pro, leading with the No. 97 Aston Martin Vantage GTE. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing continues to lurk, though, with the No. 67 Ford GT running 11 seconds behind in second place with Harry Tincknell.
A bizarre incident towards the end of the eighth hour saw Tommy Milner spin off at the Porsche Curves in the No. 64 Corvette C7.R, causing him to lose his rear wing. Milner spun again at pit entry and beached his car, requiring recovery and losing 10 minutes in the process.
There was a twist at the front of GTE-Am early in the eighth hour when Paul Dalla Lana suffered a puncture in the No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage GTE, causing him to drop back.
This handed the class lead to Will Stevens in the JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE, with the ex-Formula 1 driver running ahead of Rob Bell in the No. 90 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage.