TOYOTA GAZOO Racing leads the 85th Le Mans 24 Hours after the opening stages of the race on a very hot afternoon at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
The #7 TS050 HYBRID of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Stéphane Sarrazin, led the race after the first driver changes around 5.30pm, with the #8 of Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima in second.
Nicolas Lapierre, Yuji Kunimoto and José María López were running fifth in the #9 TS050 HYBRID.
With TOYOTA Motor Corporation President Akio Toyoda watching from the pit box, Mike led from the beginning with a clean start in the pole position #7, while Sébastien dropped back to third behind the #1 Porsche.
Nicolas suffered misfortune on lap one through no fault of his own. The #4 Bykolles suffered a problem and a piece of loose bodywork hit the right front of the TS050 HYBRID, compromising its aerodynamics. At the first pit stop, the front bodywork was changed at the cost of 10 seconds and Nicolas resumed in fifth.
When Mike pitted for the first time, he returned to the track just ahead of Sébastien. The two cars went side by side briefly and Sébastien put the #8 into the lead later in the lap.
Soon after the first hour, Mike returned to the lead by passing the #8 and stayed there through beyond the first driver changes, on the third pit stops.
The next phase of the race saw Kamui take over the #7, with Anthony in the #8 and José María completing his first racing laps at Le Mans in the #9.
TS050 HYBRID #7 (Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Stéphane Sarrazin)
Grid position: 1st
Mike Conway: “It was a good first stint. I was just basically controlling things, keeping up a steady pace and trying not to do anything silly. The track is quite dirty so you have to be careful not to get pick up; I had to learn that in the first stint. All in all, the car is good and we just keep chipping away.”
TS050 HYBRID #8 (Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson, Kazuki Nakajima)
Grid position: 2nd
Sébastien Buemi: “The stint was okay but we had a lot of yellow flags and slow zones. I tried to focus on my job as much as I could. It is the start of a long race so let’s stay calm. The temperature is high so the tyres were moving around quite a lot. I am happy with how the car is, now let’s see how it will evolve.”
TS050 HYBRID #9 (Nicolas Lapierre, Yuji Kunimoto, José María López)
Grid position: 5th
Nicolas Lapierre: “It was a pity we lost a position at the start. The Bykolles touched something in front of me and a piece damaged our front end. So the first stint was really difficult with less downforce. The car was much better after we changed the front end and we were back to normal. It felt good and I could push.”