LMP1: Toyota In Control
Conway held off the challenge of Buemi off the line and the two Toyotas soon settled into a comfortable lead, having five seconds in hand over Hartley in the #2 Porsche after a handful of laps. After another few minutes, Buemi went past for the lead towards the end of the start-finish straight, while simultaneously encountering traffic saw the Porsches close the gap a little.
Once they were clear of the backmarkers, however, the gap went back up again, expanding to seven seconds by lap 11. The two Toyotas stayed no more than two seconds apart, though. The factory cars continued to circulate in formation, but there were problems for the ByKolles entry necessitating a five-minute pit visit that sent it to the back of the field.
A light rain shower coincided with the first round of pitstops, but it was nowhere near heavy enough to contemplate a change of tyres and the four works cars re-emerged in the order they’d pitted: Buemi from Conway, Hartley, then Jani.
LMP2: Alpine Out Front
Polesitter Alex Lynn had a tough first lap, losing positions to both Nicolas Lapierre in the Signatech Alpine and Bruno Senna, but the Englishman was soon on the attack from third, harrying Senna’s #31 Rebellion Oreca by the third lap of the race. The order remained largely static for the first 30 minutes or so, until Matthieu Vaxiviere in the #28 TDS car found a way past Nelson Piquet’s Rebellion as they tackled traffic on lap 23, just ahead of the first pitstop cycle.
Lapierre remained on board after the stops, with Lynn emerging second, Senna third, Vaxiviere fourth and Piquet fourth. Lynn was soon back in, however, with an apparent faulty door catch necessitating the application of some gaffer tape after a driver change to Pierre Thiriet.
Andy Priaulx led a Ford GT 1-2 from pole position, front-row sitter Sam Bird’s AF Corse Ferrari getting tagged at the start, Stefan Mucke’s Ford through the #71 Ferrari to sixth from its front row position.
Nicki Thiim’s Aston Martin lost ground from its promising early third place, losing out to a charging James Calado’s #71 AF Ferrari and Fred Makowiecki in the #91 Porsche 911 RSR.
Makowiecki’s Porsche was quickly showing its true pace, harrying the two Fords as they tussled into Stowe, the #66 car passing for the lead. Priaulx seemed distracted by a loose door that soon required an early pit call, which allowed the #91 Porsche to make its move into the Village complex.
The Porsches were now showing their pace, Christensen also Calado’s Ferrari for fourth place, with Makowiecki’s pursuit of the lead coming good into Copse 40 minutes into the race.
The Ferraris were fighting back though, right up with the third placed Porsche, just a second covering the three as drops of rain started to threaten the circuit. Sam Bird bumped his way past Michael Christensen’s Porsche for third into Brooklands, his aggressive move sending Christensen to the pits as the first class caller, the #51 AF Corse car getting an official warning for its behaviour.
Thiim and Turner’s Aston Martin were bringing up the rear of the GTE-Pro category, circulating together, though the #97 car at the hands of Darren Turner was the last to make its routine stop, leading briefly. The Astons looked somewhat out of touch for the moment however.
The #91 Porsche stalled in its pit, losing significant further time through being held to avoid the exiting #51 Ferrari. Having led, the trip up cost the Porsche five places.
After the stops, Priaulx was back into the class lead, through the car carrying additional fuel from its earlier stop, the first of a Ford 1-2, Mucke staying aboard the #66 car ahead of Sam Bird’s #71 AF Corse Ferrari.
Francesco Castellaci’s Spirit Of Race Ferrari got the better of Aston Martin pole-sitter Pedro Lamy in the front-row shootout, Christian Ried’s Dempsey-Proton Porsche coming off badly having caught contact and falling to the back of the field overall. Castellacci held on well but ultimately Lamy began a concerted attack which resulted in his pass for the lead 25 minutes into the race.
Ben Barker’s Gulf Racing UK Porsche showed well in third until Keita Sawa mounted a charge in the Clearwater Racing Ferrari to arrest third place from the British driver.
With the #54 Spirit Of Race Ferrari still in touch with the Aston Martin’s lead, the #98 car’s handover to Paul Dalla Lana was marred by an unfortunate incident, the left side crew member in attendance at its pit stop falling outside the pit area while handling a wheel. This could yet draw attention from the stewards and make a difference to the team’s progress.