Rain that saw the first 12 minutes of the 24 Hours of Le Mans raced behind Grand Marshal Derek Bell in two extra formation laps led to chaos as the green flag was waved, with one of the overall victory favourites being spun out at the Dunlop Bridge. Although the start of green flag racing was action-packed, all 61 entries are still lapping around the Circuit de la Sarthe.
It was a flawless start to the race from pole sitter Mike Conway, who by the end of the hour had over 20 seconds lead on the rest of the field. For the sister Toyota Gazoo Racing entry, however, the start was fueled by nothing but anger. Sebastien Buemi, who had been second behind Conway going over the start line for the third time, was hit from behind by the #708 Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus as the pack raced under the Dunlop Bridge.
The collision saw the front right light fixture on the Glickenhaus destroyed, but more importantly saw Buemi fall down the order, only able to rejoin the grid after the GTE Pros had filtered through. Buemi put in some of the best sectors all week, dragging the #8 back up to second in class – third overall – by the end of hour one.For causing the collision, the #708 was handed a ten second stop/go penalty to be served at their next (and first) pit stop, which was also slower than planned due to having to replace the front nose of the car.
A struggle to find grip has been the story of the race so far for the other two Hypercar entries (#36 Alpine Elf Matmut and #709 Glickenhaus) with the two spinning off the track fairly often through the last 60 minutes. The #36 has managed to recover well in the hands of Nicolas Lapierre, retaining third on the grid at the end of the hour, but even with the bad luck from three of the five cars in class the #709 still sits fifth, 14th overall and in the mix with the LMP2 cars.
Antonio Felix da Costa has been commanding the LMP2 field since the start of the race, now first in class and second overall ahead of the recovering Buemi. He has felt no threat from behind, even though the charging field has been swapping places left, right and centre. As the hour comes to an end, Formula E World Champion Nyck de Vries in the #26 G-Drive Racing is chasing down the Portuguese driver after an impressively timed overtake on Robert Kubica in the #41 Team WRT. Giedo van der Garde rounds off the top three in class with the #29 Racing Team Nederland ahead of Kubica and Will Stevens in the third-place starting #65 Panis Racing now fifth.
It hasn’t been a great start to the race for #48 IDEC Sport and #25 G-Drive Racing who both brought out slow zones for getting beached in the gravel. The #48 was first off, losing it at the Mulsanne Chicane, with the #25 ending the hour in a caution zone at the Dunlop Curves.
It was heartbreak off the line for pole-sitting #72 Hub Auto Racing, whose hard work all fell apart after the #74 Racing Team India Eurasia made them one of the many first lap incidents. Still going, the pole car fell to the back of the Pro grid after being spun around. Maxime Martin is working hard in the cockpit to recover the places lost.
But GTE Pro is not in Porsches hands as the battle for class victory is currently between AF Corse and Corvette Racing. Excellent work in the pit stops and stellar driving from Tommy Milner (#64) and Antonio Garcia (#63) gave Corvette a one-two throughout most of the first hour, but the wet track is giving the American outlet a tough time. Ferrari have been optimising on this, with Miguel Molina putting pressure on the pair to fight for class lead. At the end of the hour, three different manufacturers were in podium position once again, with Milner leading Molina ahead of Laurens Vanthoor in the #79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche.
James Calado had been playing the supportive role behind the sister Ferrari, but a wide moment at the Porsche Curves saw him drop down the order to sixth behind Garcia (#63), Kevin Estre (#92 Porsche) and Martin (#72).
Niklas Nielsen in the #83 AF Corse jumped pole-sitting Julien Andlauer driving the #88 Dempsey Proton Racing after the turbulent start of the race. Matteo Cressoni sits third with the #80 Iron Lynx Ferrari. It seems whilst Porsche had the pace in qualifying, in both GTE classes, Ferrari has the pace in the race as the Italian cars are climbing through the field.