Toyota leads Le Mans pursued by Rebellions

Le Mans (France) (AFP) –

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Toyota was facing a challenge on Sunday morning as it chased a third straight victory in the elite class at the Le Mans 24 Hour race.

With just over four hours of racing left, the No. 8 Toyota of Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi, Japanese Kazuki Nakajima and New Zealander Brendon Hartley, led, but was being pursued by the two cars of the Rebellion team.

The No.8 won the last two years, although Hartley has replaced Fernando Alonso, who is preparing for a return to Formula One.

With four hours to go, the No. 8 Toyota had completed 322 laps and led the Rebellion of French trio Nathanael Berthon, Louis Deletraz and Romain Dumas by five laps.

The other Rebellion of American Gustavo Menezes, Norman Nato of France and Ayrton Senna's nephew Bruno was also close despite having to pit at 8:30am (0630 GMT) to repair mechanical damage.

The second Toyota, driven by Briton Mike Conway, Japanese Kamui Kobayashi and Argentine Jose-Maria Lopez, led to the halfway point after starting from pole position, but had to pit for a half hour during the night for a turbo change.

Kobayashi made his frustration clear as he climbed out of his car in the pits. The Japanese driver has finished second at Le Mans in each of the last three years.

The Enzo of Tom Dillmann, Bruno Spengler and Oliver Webb retired after 97 laps leaving just four cars in elite LMP1 race.

Toyota has a power edge over Rebellion, an independent team competing at Le Mans for the last time, but the Balance of Performance ballast rules reduce that advantage.

The race took place in front of empty stands due to coronavirus.

In the other categories, United Autosports' Oreca N.22, driven by Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Philip Hanson, led in LMP2. The team is owned by American Zak Brown, who also owns the McLaren F1 team.

In Grand Touring, the Aston Martins and Ferraris were battling for the lead with the Porsches slowed by race accidents.

By 09:00am (0700 GMT), 11 of the 59 cars had retired.

The forecast rain had not yet materialised. While the crowded tracks and the speed differences between the cars in the different categories, had caused some collisions, which brought out the safety car, there had been no serious crashes.

Instead of running from noon to noon, race started and ends at 2:30pm (1230 GMT), an adjustment in response to the shorter days.