It was an astonishing start from Giedo van der Garde from the second row, around the outside to take the lead, running very wide though out of T1.
Early trouble for Fabien Barthez, spin and in the Barriers at T3, drops top back of the field in the #23.
One lap later and an identical incident befell the #28 IDEC Sport Ligier Judd, Patrice Lafarge rejoined, again at the back of the field.
Lapierre meanwhile had grabbed back the lead, behind though the #33 Eurasia car, which had started at the back of the LMP grid after issues in qualifying saw Gommendy making his way through the LMP3s but contact saw the #33 sporting mild damage.
Both United Autosports LMP3 cars meanwhile were by a group of P2s and sitting 6th and seventh with Enzo Guibbert in the #9 Graff Ligier harrying Memo Rojas for 10th as the track continued to slowly dry out.
8 minutes in and Lapierre was edging away from the #38, 3.7 seconds up with a similar gap from the second placed car to Nic Jonsson in the #40 Krohn Racing Ligier.
Barthez’s recovery had seen him pass the GTE field before being summoned to a 2 minute stop go for a fourth engine change this season, the French driver responding by pitting immediately to dispense with the stop.
Lapierre’s charge away from the chasing #38 was over, for now at least, by lap 8, the Gibson closing in again and by the end of lap 10 it was almost nose to tail.
The chase though was interrupted by van der Garde looking up the inside of the GTE leading #51 Ferrari of Rui Aguas at T6, contact sent the Ferrari around, the #38 continuing but the incident under investigation, a penalty for the Championship contender though was not forthcoming, the black and white warning flag shown to both cars involved.
The leading pair had pulled away from Jonsson who had fallen into the clutches of the fourth place SMP Racing BR01 of Vitaly Petrov, 18 seconds off the lead with Pierre Thiriet in fifth a further couple of seconds behind in the Championship leading #46 Thiriet by TDS Oreca.
30 minutes in and Alex Brundle was still ahead of the #42 Greaves Ligier and #29 Pegasus Morgan, the LMP3 Championship winning #2 United Autosports Ligier JSP3 running a fine 7th overall.
Petrov meanwhile had not managed to find a way around Jonsson but had been caught by Thiriet, the Russian having to go defensive, allowing the #40 to pull away.
Thiriet though was up to fourth as the first pitstops started, Rojas first to stop.
The lead battle was meanwhile back under a second and traffic just made it closer, van der Garde looking for a way by and finding it out of T1 on Lap 31 as Simon Dolan readied himself for his final turn at the wheel of a car he has campaigned for 5 full seasons of racing.
Thiriet meanwhile was up to third courtesy of a stop for the #40 Krohn car.
van der Garde and Lapierre pitted after Lap 32 but a longer pit stop for the #38 as Dragonspeed opted to double stint their Dunlops saw Henrik Hedman emerge ahead. Thiriet had stayed out and now led.
Hedman though was off at T3, running through the gravel, regaining the track with Dolan right behind as Thiriet pitted, stayed aboard the #46 and emerged behind Jonsson in 4th.
Dolan dragged up behind the leader along the start finish straight, couldn’t make the pass there but executed a faultless pass around the outside in T4 to lead the race.
As the top of the hour approached Henrik Hedman’s tricky start to his stint got trickier, a big lock up, then contact saw the #21 off track briefly, the car rejoining 4th!
Before the race even started, David Droux in #19 landed in the gravel trap after spinning on the formation lap. Poleman Brundle and team mate Wayne Boyd had a clean start and pulled away easily. They even managed to exceed the speed of the slowest LMP2s in the early laps of the race.
They were followed in third position by Enzo Guibbert on the Ligier JSP3 #9 of Graff Racing. Top positions remained unchanged throughout the first hour until 90 seconds before the 60 minute mark elapsed, Alex Brundle pitting to hand over the car to Mike Guasch, United using one of their two timed stops early again, the #2 emerging 7th.
It was a careful start for the #88 Porsche pole car. This allowed Rui Aguas onboard Ferrari F458 AF Corse #51 to take the lead. He was able to pull away instantly from #56 Ferrari F458 AF Corse of Alex Talkanista Jr. but the Japanese quickly suffered a tyre puncture and pitted.
On lap 8, pole car #88 suffered front left tyre damage after a collision with the #6 360 racing LMP3 Ligier. Three laps later, it was the leading car’s (#51) turn to have contact with a competitor. This time it was with LMP2 #38 Gibson of Giedo Van De Garde. This positioned LMGTE championship contenders Aston Martin #99 and JMW Ferrari F458 #66 in the top two positions of the category.
On lap 23, Rory Butcher on board JMW Ferrari F458 #66 overtook Alex MacDowell at the wheel of Aston Martin #99. The top two positions remained unchanged until the end of the first hour while third position came back to the delayed #51 Ferrari F458 of Rui Aguas.
On the hour the #60 Formula Racing Ferrari stopped on the infield at T7, Johnny Laurssen getting out of the car, the car retired, 2016 a major contrast to their 2015 Championship winning season.