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Toyota In Control, GTE Battles Intensify In Opening Four Hours

SMP's BR1s hit trouble

With four hours, 134 laps (roughly) and 500 miles still to run in the 2019 Sebring 1000 Miles, Toyota Gazoo Racing continues to control proceedings in Florida.

The light trackside has faded, the night hours have begun, and the #8 Toyota leads the way. Kazuki Nakajima is at the wheel, heading a 1-2 for the Japanese marque in a race which has seen plenty of attrition in the LMP1 ranks.

Currently, the #7 Toyota sits second, just 1.5 seconds behind, with the nearest privateer entry already three laps down, the #3 Rebellion R-13 having a consistent run, but unable to match the pace of the Toyotas.

SMP’s race went from bad to worse after the first hour, the #11 BR1 of Vitaly Petrov suffering a mechanical issue, which forced the car into the pits.

Then, shortly after fighting his way to third past Nathanael Berthon in the #3 Rebellion, Igor Orudzhev had an off at Turn 1 into the barriers, destroying the #17’s front end. The Russian went off and clipped the tyre barriers sending him spinning, head on into the tyres, forcing him to retire on the spot.

It also brought out a lengthy safety car for barrier repairs.

Because of the dramas in LMP1, DragonSped’s BR1 is now up to fourth, and running well ahead of the recovering #11 BR1.

In LMP2, Jackie Chan DC Racing’s #37 ORECA, running with its new driver-crew this weekend, leads by 28 seconds over the Signatech Alpine crew. Jordan King, David Heinemeier Hansson and Will Stevens look like a winning combination so far.

The French Alpine team though, won’t mind too much, as its main priority is taking advantage of the chance to do some real damage in the championship standings after the points-leading #38 JCDC ORECA’s earlier mechanical woes have left it running last in class.

Third, in what’s turning out to be the team’s best run of the season is the Racing Team Nederland Dallara, which has run as high as second at times and looks very much on for a podium if the team can keep it clean for the remaining hours.

In the GTE ranks, the #67 Ford GT had dug in well at the front in Pro, Andy Priaulx extending the car’s lead in rotation with Harry Tincknell throughout FCYs and routine stops, now standing at some 15 seconds. However, a five-second penalty would be added to its next stop for an earlier unsafe release in front of one of the BMW’s.

The race behind for second to fifth had been characteristically hard fought, the pair of BMW M8’s showing strong pace and trading places with the Porsches. At four hours Nicky Catsburg had rejoined in second after the stops. The #66 Ford had also chased hard but then lost several laps in its pit.

The sole Corvette featured earlier but had struggled for grip later in stints and has dropped back, though it remains in touch with the race leaders at the halfway mark.

Aston Martin’s low key start to the race due to a tough run in qualifying was seemingly something of a waiting game. The #95 Vantage had progressed steadily, getting up as far as second place in the hands of Nicki Thiim before handing to Darren Turner, who would lose the car under braking for Turn 10, but without damage. The #97 car hadn’t shown so well, Alex Lynn trying hard but currently sitting eighth in class.

GTE Am meanwhile, swung like a pendulum between Hours 2 and 4. Project 1’s Porsche 911 pushed on hard to lead into Hour 2, the #98 Aston Martin still hard on its tail in the hands of Paul Dalla Lana, and the Dempsey Proton Porsches in a scrap of their own for third. Matteo Cairoli was recording the fastest ‘Am laps in the #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche, a 2:00.754 soon improved to a 2:00.427 as he reeled in teammate Julien Andlauer, getting past on lap 45. This wasn’t to last though as the #88 got caught out in the caution periods and dropped back.

As the race approached its fourth hour, a feisty battle for the lead between Jorg Bergmeister and Giancarlo Fisichella ended badly as the Italian showed the #86 Porsche the nose of his Spirit of Race Ferrari going into Turn 1.

After contact Project 1 911 RSR lost grip and found itself backwards in the tyre wall, prompting a penalty to be handed to the #54 crew. The Porsche did manage to rejoin, and with a pit stop made under the FCY the team didn’t lose too much time, allowing the Porsche to climb back to lead the class again at the halfway mark, ahead of the #98 Aston Martin. Julien Andlauer was third though some way back, holding the torch for Dempsey Proton.

The best lap of the race thus far in the Pro-Am division of GTE has been set by Ben Barker in the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche, though the car’s general pace had not been consistent enough to establish itself in the hunt.