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Toyota in control at Le Mans, Alonso running second

24 Heures du Mans 13-17/06/18 Le Mans - France Race start.
© WRI2

Toyota enjoyed a trouble-free start to its campaign to finally clinch the honours in the Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race.

Sebastien Buemi took the wheel of the #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing polesitting LMP1 car for the start. While he initially retained the lead, he then succumbed to a first-lap move from the sister #7 car driven by Mike Conway into the Dunlop Chicane.

Buemi was able to recover the lead four laps later and went on to pull out a comfortable cushion over Conway. However a prolonged slow zone for barrier repairs at Indianapolis after an accident for the #86 Gulf Porsche enabled Conway to pull closer just in time to leapfrog Buemi during the second round of pit stops.

Conway was still in the lead after two and a half hours and 42 laps at the wheel when Toyota made their first driver changes. Conway handed off to José María López while Fernando Alonso was installed into the #8. Alonso picked up where Buemi had left off in second place, but only five seconds now separated the two leading Toyotas.

Subsequently a left-rear puncture forced the #7 to make an extra pit stop, briefly handing the lead to Alonso just before the race saw its first full safety car at the three and a half mark.

The caution was needed because Gabriel Aubry's #38 Jota had suffered a high-speed delamination, scattering debris across the circuit. Lopez used the opportunity to regain the lead once the race went back to green flag conditions.

The #3 Rebellion Racing car had been running in third place albeit over two minutes off the leaders. The car had been involved in an unfortunate clash with the sister #1 entry at the start, which resulted in Andre Lotterer briefly running off track in the first corner.

As the #1 came back on, Lotterer clipped the back end of Ben Hanley's #10 DragonSpeed car. Both cars had to laboriously crawl round a full lap of the Circuit de la Sarthe in order to pit for repairs. Even so, the speed of the LMP1 cars was such that both were soon back in the top six.

The #17 SMP Racing car driven by Stephane Sarrazin was also faring well and vying for third, but there was a nightmare for the sister #11 car. Vitali Petrov pitted at the end of the first hour, where the car remained resolutely inert as the team worked to address sensor issues. Co-driver Jenson Button could only watch on as they fell to the bottom of the timesheets, 48 laps off the lead by the time it finally rejoined.

24 Heures du Mans 13-17/06/18 Le Mans - France LMP1 TOYOTA GAZOO RACING TS050

© WRI2

In LMP2, a brilliant first stint by Formula E and former F1 driver Jean-Eric Vergne had put the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca Gibson firmly in control ahead of the #36 Signatech Alpine

In GTE-Pro, Porsche held a strong 1-2 position with the #91 and #92 entries, although Sebastien Bourdais was briefly successful in inserting the #68 Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA into the battle.

And in GTE-Am, the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche inherited the class lead after Michael Wainwright crashed out in the Gulf Porsche.

Light rain had swept in shortly after tennis star Rafa Nadal showed the field the French tricolour to get proceedings underway. It was enough for race control to declare it a wet race, but didn't appear to cause the drivers significant problems before quickly abating.

Weather forecasts for the remainder of the race remain variable.

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