The opening hour of the 2019 Le Mans 24 Hours was fast, furious, but thankfully, clean.
As expected Toyota is leading the way with its pair of TS050 HYBRIDs, the No. 7 pole-sitting car of Mike Conway leading Sebastien Buemi in the No. 8 by 15. 5 seconds.
The privateers did try and climb into the top two spots, but at the start, the two TS050s fended off the challenges from the No. 3 Rebellion of Gustavo Menezes and No. 11 SMP Racing BR1 of Vitaly Petrov with a bit of blocking.
After 60 minutes, and a single pit stop, the best of the rest is the No. 3 Rebellion after Menezes fought past Petrov early on and held him at bay through traffic after a nose-to-tail battle. The No. 11 SMP Racing BR1 of Petrov is fourth, with the sister No. 17 of Stephane Sarrazin fifth.
The lap times have been stunning, Conway setting the best time, a 3m:17.297s in clear air on Lap 4. Will that be beaten?
There were two dramas in the class, the No. 1 Rebellion Racing slowing to a crawl after 45 minutes and the No. 10 DragonSpeed reported as smoking, despite continuing to lap at normal speeds.
LMP2 was much the same story, lots of tussles, but no contact. TDS Racing’s No. 28 ORECA of Matthieu Vaxiviere held onto the lead from pole until the first stops, despite Nicolas Lapierre in the WEC points-leading Signatech Alpine piling on the pressure.
But the Alpine is now leading the way after a quick pit stop, Lapierre still aboard, ahead of Vaxiviere who now sits second. The No. 26 G-Drive Racing Aurus of Jean-Eric Vergne is now third, with the Racing Team Nederland Dallara fourth.
The biggest mover of the race in LMP2 thus far has been the Racing Team Nederland Dallara, ex-F1 man Giedo van Der Garde pulled off another one of his mighty starts in the Jumbo-backed P217, making up four places in sector 1 on the opening lap.
The only drama in the class was the No. 30 Duquiene Engineering ORECA suffering a suspension issue on Mulsanne Straight, Nico Jamin carefully steering the car back for a check-up.
GTE Pro, the battle which the fans have been eagerly anticipating, has been steller. It’s been nose-to-tail, with all the marques involved thus far.
At the head of the field is the No. 63 Corvette, Antonio Garcia storming to the front from third, making the move for the lead past Nicki Thiim’s pole-sitting No. 95 Aston Martin around the outside on the entry to Indianapolis halfway through the hour.
Thiim now sits seventh, after the first stops shook up the order. Behind Garcia is now Nick Tandy in the No. 93 Porsche, with the No. 92 Porsche of Michael Christensen (in for Kevin Estre) up to third.
The No. 64 Corvette of Oliver Gavin has made significant progress is up to fourth with Dirk Muller in the No. 68 Ford fifth.
Harry Tincknell’s No. 67 Ford is another car that lost ground during the hour, after starting second the Briton is now down to eighth.
For the moment it seems close, as the BoP change overnight (AMR getting a turbo boost reduction, and all but the Corvette C7.Rs receiving a minor weight break) so far having little effect on the battle.
And in Am it was all Porsche, the two Dempsey Proton 911 RSRs leading the charge for the German marque. Matteo Cairoli in the No. 88 held onto the lead before the first stops, with Matt Campbell making it a 1-2 in second for the 2018 class-winning No. 77.
But, it changed after a visit to the pits, Satoshi Hoshino having a spin after a full course yellow for a debris clear up was called just before Hour 2 began. Hoshino had just climbed in after Cairoli’s stint, and slammed on the anchors when the FCY was called, sending him into a spin. Thankfully he kept it out of the barriers.
The No. 54 Spirit of Race Ferrari, a title contender, climbed from fifth to first after pitting, and now leads the No. 77 Proton Porsche, and the No. 86 Gulf Racing Porsche which sat third the whole hour. Keating Motorsports’ Ford is now up to fourth.