Defending Le Mans 24 Hours winner Toyota is down to just one car after the #7 Toyota piloted by ex-Formula 1 driver Kamui Kobayashi was involved in a pile-up with an Alpine LMP2 car and a Ferrari GTE Am entry.
Toyota, who has won the last five Le Mans 24 Hours, faces greater competition than in years with the likes of Ferrari and Porsche, Cadillac and Peugeot making their Le Mans Hypercar class debut.
Ferrari locked out the front row in qualifying with the Toyotas down in third and fifth but the #8 crew moved into the lead within the first hour – one that was largely spent under safety car conditions.
Ferrari found its way back to the lead with the #51 entry but Alessandro Pier Guidi spun the Ferrari out of the lead just before the eight-hour mark.
A few moments earlier, Alessandro Pier Guidi went off at the first chicane in Les Hunaudières while he was leading the overall standings with his @FerrariHypercar #51. #WEC #LeMans24 #LeMansCentenary pic.twitter.com/98WW6vrxnk
— FIA World Endurance Championship (@FIAWEC) June 10, 2023
This only came a couple of hours after Ye Yifei had crashed the #38 Jota-run Porsche out of the lead after the team had made a sensational charge from 61st on the grid – after it failed to set a time in qualifying due to an electrical issue.
It left the #94 Peugeot – Jean-Eric Vergne had spun the sister car into the gravel under the safety car earlier in the race – as the race leader with the #7 Toyota among its main challengers.
That was until Kobayashi was involved in a bizarre multi-car pile-up at the start of a slow zone. The #66 JMW Motorsport-run Ferrari GTE Am of Louis Prette appeared to collide with Kobayashi as it hit fellow ex-F1 driver Giedo van der Garde in the #39 Graff LMP2 entry. The #35 Alpine LMP2 car of Memo Rojas then in turn hit Kobayashi.
What an incredible start to the night!
The #7 Toyota stopped on the edge of the track at the top of the Mulsanne Straight and got hit by the JMW Ferrari ! #LeMansCentenary | @TGR_WEC | @FerrariHypercar pic.twitter.com/s0Mp7O6tLs
— 24 Hours of Le Mans (@24hoursoflemans) June 10, 2023
Van der Garde called it a “stupid incident” and said “a car [Prette] just flew over me”.
It brought Kobayashi and the #7 crew’s race to an end and leaves Toyota with just one car in the race.
The #94 Peugeot – shared by Nico Mueller, Loic Duval and Gustavo Menezes – led the race under the safety car that was deployed for the Kobayashi/van der Garde/Prette pile-up.
Toyota still has a hope of defending its Le Mans crown with its #8 crew running in second place ahead of the #2 Cadillac that’s driven by Alex Lynn, Richard Westbrook and Earl Bamber – the Action Express-run #311 Cadillac’s hopes of victory were quickly ended by Jack Aitken crashing on the opening lap.
Porsche has lost one of its factory cars (the #75 entry) when it stopped out on track with a fuel pressure problem.