Toyota restores 1-2, safety car for major Aston crash

After a busy opening hour, the 2021 edition settled into the next few hours, with quadruple-hardened Conway taking command of the race until Kobayashi was handed over.

However, it was not all plain sailing for Toyota, as Conway had to abort one of his stints for a right rear puncture. Sebastian Buemi in the #8 car also had to dent earlier than planned after coming into contact with the LMP2 car, prompting Toyota to investigate possible rim damage.

Buemi was slowly closing the one-minute gap to about 40 seconds, but then the gap widened again with both drivers on different pitstop strategies, as Buemi handed over to Brendan Hartley.

The race saw its first safety car interference due to a hard hit for Marcos Gomes in the #98 Aston Martin in the fourth hour, who went into a tire in Indianapolis. Brazilian stock car regular Gomes managed to outrun the car with heavy damage under his power, but the Aston, which finished in the top three in the GTE M, had the race’s first retirement.

As is often the case at Le Mans, three different safety car trains wreaked havoc on fighting in most sections. The two Toyotas and the chasing #36 Alpine each ended up behind a different safety car.

On the resume Kobayashi led Hartley with a margin of 1m13s. At the four-hour mark, that gap dropped to eight seconds, with the #8 car chase still leading to a pitstop.

First Nicolas Lapierre’s #36 Alpine A480-Gibson and then Andre Negrao chased down the dues after 1m13s, after losing time at the start due to Lapierre’s spin in the wet.

Both Glickenhaus cars struggled for speed after the opening stage. The #708 car, which had initially outperformed the #8 Toyota, overtook the LMP2 in ninth place. #709 Sister car finished 13th half a minute ahead of the road.

In LMP2, drama happened for the then leaders JOTA. #38 At Oreca-Gibson Antonio Felix da Costa was dominating the first 2h30m race, shortly after handling the car Anthony Davidson ran to Dunlop Chicken, possibly caught by a light drizzle and spinning the GTE M car in front of him .

This gave the class lead to Franco Colapinto’s #26 G-Drive Orus, who had to defend his slim lead against Job van Uttert of Racing Team Netherlands. The latter took over from fellow Dutchman Guido van der Garde, who skillfully took the #29 Oreca from 16th starting place to third.

The safety car triggered several pitstops that shook the LMP2’s running order but luckily most of the frontrunners ended up on the same train.

Tom Blomqvist’s #28 Jota Oreka-Gibson resume, which he shared with Stoffel Vandoorne and Sean Gelle, took the lead and then took the lead eight seconds past the four-hour mark. Thee #23 United Autosports Oreca of Wayne Boyd was in second place, six seconds ahead of James Allen’s #65 Panis Racing entry.

Colapinto and Van Uitert moved up to fourth and fifth place respectively.

#52 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE EVO LMGTE Pro, Daniele Cera, Miguel Molina, Sam Byrd

#52 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE EVO LMGTE Pro, Daniele Cera, Miguel Molina, Sam Byrd

Photo by: Mark Fleury

Ferrari in control of GTE Pro

In GTE Pro, Ferrari took control of the race, AF Corse-run #51 and #52 cars either swapping positions or running in formation for the opening hours.

In the third hour the #52 car opened a small lead over the #51 entry, while WeatherTech’s Earl Bamber took on the #79 Porsche in the third-place finish at the start, which he had inherited from starting driver Laurens Vanthoor.

When Bamber handed it to Cooper McNeill, Jordan Taylor climbed to third place in the #63 Corvette C8.R after passing Michael Christensen’s Porsche #91 for the first time. Christensen moved up from McNeil to fourth.

The second factory #91 Porsche and #64 Corvette safety car were victims, losing more than a minute over their competitors. The polesitting #72 HubAuto Porsche, which was swung at the start of the race, struggled to enter the rest of the GTE Pro field and trailed by more than half a lap after a drive-thru penalty for exceeding the track limit.

In GTE M, TF Sport’s Felipe Fraga starred in his opening round, taking #33 Aston Martin from outside the top 10 to the front before being handed over to Dylan Pereira.

After Gomes crashed, Pereira caught the safety car earlier than his rivals, giving him a 1m15s lead over the rest of the field. He then decided to hand the reins over to Bean Keating, leaving the car behind Fran├žois Perdomo’s #83 AF Corse Ferrari.

A fight for the third class broke out between Giorgio Sarnagiotto in the #47 Setiler Ferrari and Scott Andrews in the #57 Kessel Racing Ferrari.

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