After the morning support races were run on a greasy track under grey skies the 78th running of the 20 Hours of Le Mans started in good conditions, 55 runners led to the French tricolore by the collection of seven diesel LMP1 cars.
Pedro Lamy, starting the race in the pole sitting No.3 Peugeot led the first lap, ahead of his two works teammates and the ORECA Peugeot in fourth, Nicolas Lapierre driving a very defensive opening lap to fend off an attempt by Allan McNish to get among the Peugeots early in the race.
However, after the early attempt McNish fell away from the back of the Mondrian liveried car, before the safety car(s) were called out as Nigel Mansell crashed the LMP1 Beechdean Mansell racing Ginetta into the barriers between Mulsanne corner and Indianapolis. The former world champion, driving with his two sons, backed the car heavily into the metal barriers on the left hand side of the track, having already been off to the right.
The crash appeared innocuous on TV replays and the team's telemetry revealed nothing, however, Mansell the elder was carried out of the car buy a group of track workers and into the waiting ambulance. The car out of the race after less than 30 minutes.
They were not the first casualty of the race the no.19 Michael Lewis/Autocon stopping on the opening lap with what the team reported as a gearbox problem.
The safety car played heavily into the hands of the quartet of Peugeots, the tracks set-up of three safety cars inexplicably splitting McNish from the French cars, inserting a gap of over two minutes.
The Safety Cars remained out for over 30 minutes for unknown reasons, presumably barrier repairs to the low Armco's Mansell had hit.
The three works Peugeots led with McNish in fourth after Lapierre had pitted in the ORECA diesel, though the trio of Audis were over a minute behind, exiting Tetre Rouge as the Peuogeots bolted down the Mulsanne straight.
As the clock ticked over the races first complete hour pitstops were beginning, Marcel Fassler in the no.8 Audi the first of the leaders to come in with Franck Montagny in the no.2 Peugeot leaving second place for his own pitstop.
Class top fives after one hours
No.3 Peugeot Sport Total – Peugeot 908 – 12 Laps
No.1 Team Peugeot Total – Peugeot 908
No.2 Team Peugeot Total – Peugeot 908
No.7 Audi Sport Team Joest – Audi R15 'Plus'
No.9 Audi Sport North America – Audi R15 'Plus'
No.42 Strakka Racing – HPD ARX01c – 12L
No.26 Highcroft Racing – HPD ARX01c
No.40 Quifel ASM Team – Ginetta-Zytek
No.35 OAK Racing – Pescarolo-Judd
No.49 KSM – Lola-Judd
No.60 Matech Competition – Ford GT
No.52 Young Driver AMR – Aston Martin DBR9
No.73 Luc Alpand Aventures – Chevrolet Corvette
No.50 Larbre Competition – Saleen S7
No.61 Matech Competition – Ford GT
No.64 Corvette Racing – Chevrolet Corvette
No.63 Corvette Racing – Chevrolet Corvette
No.77 Team Felbermayr-Proton – Porsche 997
No.76 IMSA Performance Matmut – Porsche 997
No.89 Hankook Team Farnbacher – Ferrari 430