LM24, Hour 1: Ferrari sets the early pace

The 92nd edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours is underway, and the first hour of racing delivered battles in every class from the word go, with hard, clean racing from the drivers.

Leading the race after the first set of stops is the No. 50 Ferrari AF Corse 499P of Nicklas Nielsen, who is currently locked in a battle with the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport 963 of Laurens Vanthoor, who took the start from pole.

Vanthoor spent much of the hour running third after the two factory Ferraris made a charge to the front. Nielsen, in the No. 50 led the most laps, after moving from fifth to first at the start.


He then spent an extended period leading the No. 51 sister car of Antonio Giovanazzi, who briefly took the lead after an error by Nielsen halfway through the hour at Mulsanne before dropping back again.

Out of the pits at the first stops, Nielsen dropped to second behind the No. 6 Porsche, and ended up fighting with Vanthoor through to the start of Hour 2, making his way past with a few minutes left through traffic.

Third on the road is now the No. 3 Cadillac Racing V-Series R after a steady first stint from Sebastien Bourdais, running on soft Michelins, unlike the leading Ferraris and Porsche that selected the medium for the start.

The top four are practically nose to tail, with the No. 8 Toyota looking strong in fifth behind the No. 51 Ferrari that dropped to fourth after serving a 10-second time penalty at its first stop for an infraction earlier in the week.

The lead is almost certainly due to change again in Hour 2, as the No. 50 Ferrari will have to serve a time penalty during the second round of stops for an unsafe release during its first stop.

In LMP2, it’s the No. 9 Proton Competition ORECA of Bent Viscaal that leads, after the AO by TF ORECA held station from pole through to the first stops with Louis Deletraz at the wheel. But after the first stops, which saw a handful of driver changes, many positions shuffled.

The No. 65 Panis Racing ORECA is second and leads Pro/Am with Mathias Beche installed. The No. 22 United Autosports example is third.

LMGT3 has had the feel of a classic GTE Le Mans start of old, a long train of cars making for plenty of edgy and exciting moments.

Inception Racing’s McLaren leads from Pole, with the No. 77 Proton Competition Ford Mustang up to second after a spirited start to the race from Ben Barker. The JMW Ferrari is third, with the No. 88 Proton Mustang up to fourth.

The best-placed United McLaren – the No. 59 – is up to fifth.

One of the biggest movers in the class was the Pure Rxcing Porsche. The team opted to place its Bronze Alex Malykhin in the car for the start. He fought extremely hard to keep the Pro drivers at bay, but dropped to 14th from second on the grid. They are, however, playing the long game in this Pro/Am class.

The start of the race, while fast and frantic, was uncharacteristically clean with no significant incidents through the first two laps.

The only real drama from the opening scramble was the No. 47 COOL Racing ORECA slowly limping back to the pits on lap two. Matt Bell, who was behind the wheel, was spotted on the cameras climbing out of the car shortly after the team pushed it back into its garage.

“They say you always need luck to win Le Mans, and ours has run out already. The radiator was damaged by a stone on the warm-up lap. It’s been punctured,” Bell told the broadcast.

Later in the hour the No. 25 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA also needed attention in the pits, the car losing two laps to repair work on the car’s left side after taking damage.

Shortly after, the No. 23 United Autosports ORECA of Ben Keating ended up stuck in the gravel at Dunlop after an error by the Texan, which dropped the car to 14th.

The first major off for a Hypercar in the race came at the exit of the Esses; Marco Wittmann in the No. 15 BMW Team WRT M Hybrid V8 losing the rear and spinning off the circuit, slapping the armco barriers side on. Damage was minimal, and the German only needed to pit for a tire change.

The car is now down to 23rd in class and 37th overall, but crucially, still on the lead lap.

This wasn’t the biggest issue for a Hypercar at this early stage though, as the No. 99 Proton Competition Porsche ended up in the garage with a faulty door mechanism, much to the frustration of team owner Christian Ried, who was spotted on the broadcast storming out of the garage.

This is the same issue the team encountered at Spa during the race, though on that occasion it was sorted out manually by Neel Jani while lapping the circuit

In LMGT3 the No. 78 AKKODIS ASP Lexus was also delayed, starting from pit lane after being involved in an incident during the morning warm up. The team repaired the car before the start of the race. Kelvin van der Linde took the start and is 22nd in class.

As a whole, the first hour was absolutely astonishing to watch. With a top class this big, the fight through traffic with the field bunched up has been a sight to behold thus far.

The first run down Mulsanne with the Hypercars lapping the LMGT3s was staggering, the circuit as congested as it’s ever looked, with some of the best drivers on the planet slaloming through the slower pack. There were more than 700 overtakes recorded in the first half hour alone!

The next 23 hours look set to deliver a race for the ages. Strap yourselves in, it’s going to be quite a ride…


Story originally appeared on Racer