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Kobayashi Ahead at Six-Hour Mark in Close Toyota Battle

Kobayashi leads Hirakawa after six hours of racing with Toyota in control at sunset…

Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Kamui Kobayashi moved the No. 7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid into the lead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and stood 6.3 seconds clear of his teammate Ryo Hirakawa after six hours.

Kobayashi swept around Hirakawa as the latter got caught behind a GT car as he emerged from his car’s seventh pit stop of the race during the sixth hour.

The two Toyotas had been close together since shortly before the four-hour mark when the No. 8 reclaimed first place due to an off-track moment for Jose Maria Lopez.

Lopez remained on the tail of Brendon Hartley until both drivers swapped out of their Toyotas midway through the fifth hour, handing over to Kobayashi and Hirakawa respectively.

Hirakawa, in his first Le Mans stint for the Japanese manufacturer, kept the margin over his team principal even over the next stint, but Kobayashi moved ahead shortly after five hours had passed.

The defending Le Mans winner then extended the No. 7 car’s lead by a few seconds leading up to one-quarter duration.

After six hours and with the sun setting, Pipo Derani was third in the No. 708 Glickenhaus 007 Pipo, two and a half minutes behind Hirakawa and 40 seconds ahead of the other Glickenhaus driven by Ryan Briscoe.

Alpine Elf Team suffered more setbacks after their Hypercar-class LMP1 machine was wheeled into its garage for a second lengthy pit stop after hitting a clutch issue.

That pushed the Alpine A480 Gibson down to seven laps off the lead.

JOTA remained out front in LMP2 with Silver-rated driver Roberto Gonzalez at the helm after early stints from Antonio Felix da Costa and Will Stevens.

Gonzalez, driving the No. 38 Oreca 07 Gibson, held a 72-second advantage over Cool Racing’s Ricky Taylor after six hours, although the American was due to stop.

Team Penske established itself in second, but its task of catching the JOTA car was made harder by a front-end change that yielded a 2-minute, 15-second pit visit.

The front bodywork was replaced after Nasr struck debris that damaged part of the car.

Also of note, the Richard Mille Racing Team Oreca that had been working in the top five dropped outside the top 10 after Charles Milesi received a one-minute stop-go penalty for crossing the white line at pit entry and forcing a car off-track in the process.

The No. 63 Chevrolet Corvette C8.R held sway in GTE-Pro with Antonio Garcia enjoying a 31-second cushion over Porsche GT Team’s Kevin Estre as the sun went down.

A quicker pit stop shortly before the six-hour mark brought Estre’s No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR-19 out ahead of the No. 64 Corvette, which had been defending the position hard during Alexander Sims’ stint against Laurens Vanthoor.

The No. 91 Porsche that was running fourth incurred a one-minute penalty for repeatedly breaching track limits.

That pushed it behind the No. 52 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo, which after six hours sat one minute and 14 seconds behind the so-far dominant No. 63 Corvette.

Porsche privateer squad WeatherTech Racing has similarly become the clear leader in GTE-Am, in part thanks to a strong stint from Bronze driver Thomas Merrill.

His co-driver Cooper MacNeil ran a minute and 17 seconds ahead of the second-placed No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage GTE driven by Nicki Thiim with 18 hours to go.

Harry Tincknell was third, meanwhile, aboard Dempsey-Proton Racing’s No. 77 Porsche.

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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