LE MANS, France (AP) Chasing its first win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota led at the halfway stage on Saturday night but was under pressure from Audi.
Alexander Wurz’s Toyota No. 7 led Andre Lotterer’s Audi No. 2 by 1 minute, 56 seconds and Tom Kristensen’s Audi No. 1 by two laps. The Japanese manufacturer has no maneuvering room as its second car, Sebastien Buemi’s Toyota No. 8 is virtually out of contention, in sixth place but 12 laps off the pace.
In its return to Le Mans after a 16-year absence in the top category, Porsche depends on mistakes from its rivals to have a shot at the title. Timo Bernhard’s Porsche No. 20 is fourth, three laps behind Wurz, followed by Neel Jani’s Porsche No. 14 in fifth place.
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Porsche and Toyota swapped the lead from the third to the fifth hour until an unscheduled pit stop by Brendon Hartley’s Porsche No. 20 allowed Stephane Sarrazin’s Toyota No. 7 to pull away.
Reliability proved an issue for Porsche in the opening hour when Romain Dumas’ Porsche No. 14 lost time in the garage because of a fuel pressure problem.
In the second hour, a sudden downpour caused the crash of two contenders. Nicolas Lapierre’s Toyota No. 8 and Marco Bonanomi’s Audi No. 3 were fighting for third place when a slippery track led the Toyota to lose traction and bounce off a barrier before clipping the Audi, which got also hit by Sam Bird’s Ferrari No. 81.
The accident brought the safety car out for about 40 minutes. Lapierre was able to drive his car back to the garage to have it repaired while Bonanomi was forced to retire. The Toyota No. 8 has been dealing with balance issues since that crash.
Audi has won nine of the last 10 races at Le Mans, including the last four. A total of 54 cars started the 82nd edition of the race, which ends on Sunday at 1300 GMT.