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24 Hours of Le Mans: Toyotas battle for victory in closing hour

24 Hours of Le Mans: Toyotas battle for victory in closing hour
By Eurosport

16/06/2019 at 13:06Updated 16/06/2019 at 14:16

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14:40 ALONSO AND TOYOTA #8 CLAIM GLORY

Fernando Alonso has claimed back-to-back victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, overtaking the rival Toyota on the final hour before holding on to win the famous race. The #8 Toyota of Nakajima, Buemi and Alonso also became 2018-2019 World Endurance champions after their #7Toyota car was beset by problems in the final hour, including a puncture that denied them what had seemed like a certain victory.

13:30 - TOYOTA #7 LOSES LEAD, BUT CLOSES GAP

The lead has changed handed due to the puncture problems, and unless there is more drama it appears likely that the Toyota #8 with Fernando Alonso as part of the team is going to cash in on the problems by claiming victory. The #7 has closed the gap by 10 seconds, but surely it has run out of time to overtake again? Or maybe not? Into the final moments.

13:00 - TOYOTA LEAD CAR SLOWS DOWN

Drama in the final hour with the leading #7 Toyota suddenly having problems. Apparently is it a slow puncture. It heads back to the pit lane holding a lead of just 90 seconds over the #8 Toyota. Toyota is going to win, but which one?

12:00 - KOBAYASHI CONTINUES TO LEAD

Kobayashi has managed to maintain his lead over Alonso at two minutes as Toyota maintain its 1-2 into the final stages of the race. Kobayashi or Alonso could be first overall winner of #Rolex24 and #LEMANS24 in the same year since 2010.

10:00 - ALONSO TRIES TO CLOSE GAP

Champions Toyota led the Le Mans 24 Hours sportscar race in one-two formation as dawn broke over the famed Mulsanne straight on Sunday.

With five hours remaining, 50 of the 61 cars were still running with the number seven Toyota of Britain's Mike Conway, Japan's Kamui Kobayashi and Argentina's Jose Maria Lopez out in front.

The number eight car, shared by world endurance championship leaders double Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso, Japan's Kazuki Nakajima and Switzerland's Sebastien Buemi, was a lap down.

Alonso's former McLaren Formula One team mate Stoffel Vandoorne, a Le Mans rookie, was also heading for the podium in the third-placed number 11 SMP Racing BR Engineering car shared with Russians Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin.

That non-hybrid car was some six laps off the pace as the morning brought sunshine and blue skies after some light overnight rain.

The two Toyota TS050 hybrids had started first and second after dominating qualifying for the 87th edition of the endurance classic and led smoothly through the night at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

The racing was punctuated by crashes, with Venezuelan former F1 driver Pastor Maldonado hitting the barriers at Tertre Rouge in the number 31 Dragonspeed LMP2 after daybreak and bringing out the safety car.

09:00 - TOYOTA IN CONTROL

With a little over six hours left to go in the Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race, the Toyota Gazoo Racing LMP1 squad was in firm control of proceedings at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

The #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid maintained a firm lead or almost a minute and a half over the sister #8 car. Jose Maria Lopez was back in the seat as dawn broke, following an impressive night time effort from his team mates Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi.

Running in second place, Fernando Alonso initially cut the gap to the leader to under a minute before Lopez was able to pull away and re-establish a convincing margin at the front.

As things stand, it means that Alonso and his co-drivers Sebastian Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima would win the 2018/18 FIA World Endurance championship superseason. However they would lose out on picking up back-to-back Le Mans victories.

Best of the rest was the #11 SMP Racing in the hands of Stoffel Vandoorne, Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin.

Behind them, Rebellion Racing's #3 R13 Gibson driven by Thomas Laurent, Nathanaël Berthon and Gustavo Menezes had been struck by an early morning tyre violation resulting in a three-minute stop and go penalty.

In the LMP2 class, a well-timed safety car helped G-Drive Racing's #26 ORECA 07 Gibson to a big lead, with Jean-Eric Verge seeking redemption after being stripped of last year's win for a technical infringement.

The #36 Signatech Alpine Matmut Alpine A470 Gibson was running in second place in the hands of Pierre Thiriet, followed by the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA 07 Gibson driven by Ho-Pin Tung.

Early-morning GTE-Pro honours went to AF Corse's #51 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo, with James Calado and Daniel Serra having to work hard to stay ahead of Frédéric Makowiecki in the #91 Porsche 911 RSR and Mike Rockenfeller in the #63 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R.

Team owner Ben Keating held the top spot in GTE-Am in the Keating Motorsports Ford GT 35V6TT before handing over to Jeroen Bleekemolen, with a solid lead over the #56 Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR.

With the weather mainly set fair other than occasional brief light shower, it had nonetheless been a stormy event for Dragonspeed.

Their LMP1 #10 entry was the first retirement of the event, and their top LMP2 #31 car ended its campaign at first light when Pastor Maldonado hit the tyre wall at the outside of Tertre Rouge, to the dismay of his watching co-drivers Anthony Davidson and Roberto González.

It was the 11th retirement of the race, from a record field of 61 starters.

22:00 - DRAMA AT THE FRONT!

A mistake from Jose Maria Lopez (Toyota #7) gifted the lead to colleague-turned-rival Kazuki Nakajima (Toyota #8) as darkness descended on Le Mans.

Lopez locked up at the Mulsanne corner, before going off track again under braking just minutes later as fears started simmering of a potential brake issue.

With one third of the race completed, the gap between the cars stood at 11.087 seconds after 128 laps.

Elsewhere, G-Drive Racing (Rusinov, Van Uitert, Vergne) lead the LMP2 classification by 12 seconds, Porsche GT (Kristensen, Estre, Vanthoor) have an 11-second lead in the LMGTE-Pro class, and Keating Motorsports (Keating, Bleekemolen, Fraga) hold a 22-second advantage in the LMG Team category.

21:00 - TOYOTA CARS SWAP POSITIONS... BRIEFLY

The Toyotas briefly swapped the lead at Le Mans after a safety car spiced up proceedings in the main LMP1 category.

Toyota #8 (Alonso, Buemi and Nakajima) moved ahead of Toyota #7 (Kobayashi, Conway, Lopez) after benefiting from Marcel Fassler’s crash (below), but were unable to maintain the advantage as the latter vehicle soon climbed back in front.

Elsewhere, Thomas Laurent made a wonderful swooping overtake in the Rebellion at the Porsche Curves, only to then undo his fine work by spinning in bizarre circumstances.

Video - ‘Oh no, he’s lost it!’ – Laurent somehow crashes under no pressure

02:09

20:00 - SAFETY CAR OUT

Marcel Fassler crashed heavily to bring the safety car out, diving up the inside of a rival and being clipped into the wall.

Video - ‘Brutal way to go’ – Fassler has huge smash with wall

01:26

19:00 - TOYOTA'S RACE TO LOSE, ACTION ELSEWHERE

Toyota stretched their dominance at Le Mans to the five-hour mark, with the Japanese outfit boasting a one-two in the endurance race.

The number seven car (Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez) opened up a one-lap lead on the sister vehicle (Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi), with little to suggest the team will fail to lockout the top two spots on the podium.

While a procession was unfolding in the main LMP1 classification, just 11.6 seconds separated the top two in the LMP2 class (G-Drive Racing and Signatech Alpine Matmut), while 1.9 seconds split the front three in LMGTE-Pro with Porsche #92 holding the lead after 73 laps.

Meanwhile, Henning Enqvist took a little spin in his ARC Bratislava car at Indianapolis in LMP2. It required a three-point turn, resulting in him reversing onto the racing line.

Video - Enqvist reverses onto racing line at Le Mans after spin

01:21

17:00 - DOMINANT TOYOTA

Defending champions and overwhelming favourites Toyota were running first and second after an untroubled opening three hours.

The number seven TS050 hybrid car shared by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez was more than a minute clear of the team's number eight car after leading the field away from pole position.

The number three Rebellion Racing entry, with Frenchmen Thomas Laurent and Nathanael Berthon as well as American Gustavo Menezes, was in third place in late afternoon sunshine with a threat of rain.

The eight car crew of double Formula One champion Fernando Alonso, Japan's Kazuki Nakajima and Switzerland's Sebastien Buemi won last year and are looking to clinch the World Endurance Championship (WEC) title.

Alonso, who left Formula One at the end of 2018 and can become the first F1 champion to win more than once at Le Mans, took over from Buemi after the two-hour mark.

16:00 - CONWAY LEADS AFTER EARLY EXCHANGES

Mike Conway in his Toyota TS050 HYBRID surged 40 seconds clear of his sister #8 car after the second hour of the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Conway and team-mate Sebastien Buemi were level during the second hour before he increased the lead to around 13 seconds after the first hour. Buemi briefly dropped one place to third behind LMP1 #3 Rebellion during the first hour, but the #8 Toyota then moved almost a minute clear of Menezes in his Rebellion-Gibson R-13.

Menezes continued on the lead lap against the Toyotas during the second hour.

14:00 - GO, GO, GO!

Toyota maintain their one-two at the start.

Remember: we're expecting this to be a civil war... Toyota #7 (Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez) versus Toyota #8 (Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima).

Toyota are the only major manufacturer in the top LMP1 category and the championship battle, at the end of a super-season that includes two editions of Le Mans, is a private one between their drivers.

Video - The start of 24 Hours of Le Mans

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