The #7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez sits ahead by 2.4 seconds after sister car Brendon Hartley, Sebastian Buemi and Rio Hirakawa let it go in the fourth hour of the race.
A second place would be enough for the #8 crew to win the championship with its main rival, the #36 Alpine of Nicolas Lapierre, Mathieu Växvier and André Negrau, in third as the only other hypercar contender without technical issues.
Buemi led the field early in the #8 Toyota that Hartley qualified for first, though the No. 93 Peugeot driven by Paul di Resta approached as they encountered traffic from the lower classes.
Peugeot #93 will drop to third in the first round of pitstops due to a partly slower stop, putting Toyota 1-2 at the front of the field with entry #8 staying ahead of #7.
Hartley held a five-second advantage after grabbing the #8 car from Buemi, but soon began to come under pressure from Conway, who quickly eliminated the championship-leading car advantage.
Hartley was initially hesitant on the team radio when Toyota chose to enforce the manufacturer’s orders, but eventually left Conway by hoisting at the end of the start/finish straight.
Alpine saw a disappointing performance in what is its last outing for the A480-Gibson LMP1, as the French manufacturer failed to make any serious progress after its fifth and final qualification in the Hypercar class.
Nicolas Lapierre was able to warm up his tires better than some of his rivals at the start of the race, overtaking the #94 Peugeot Menezes and even the #7 Toyota and then being driven by Jose Maria Lopez.
But Lopez was able to change the Alpine course on lap 3, and then the 36th crew lost more time by pitting before the second yellow period of the race.
The FCY was posted because the #93 Peugeot that qualified in the front row had a gearbox problem before the end of the 2 o’clock.
After stopping on the track for a long time in the run-down area at Turns 2 and 3, Di Resta was able to get back into the garage, where he spent two laps before being put back on the track.
Peugeot #94 also had mechanical problems during the race, with a second stop with Loic Duval at the wheel just before the race’s midpoint to upgrade Alpine to third.
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WRT passes United to lead LMP2
A charging assignment from three-time DTM champion Rene Rast propelled the #31 WRT Oreca into the LMP2 race after two hours and 30 minutes of racing.
The #23 United Autosports Oreca is running second with Oliver Jarvis at the wheel, ahead of the #22 sister car currently being driven by Will Owen.
United #22 had a solid lead after an impressive early drive from Owen’s teammate Felipe Albuquerque, but the crew fell behind both leaders WRT and #23 Oreca later in the race.
The championship-leading #38 Jota car only finished fourth but already took nearly two hours of driving time for its silver driver Roberto Gonzalez, putting it in a strong position to win the title.
Ferrari advantage in GTE classes
#51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE EVO GTE-PRO: Alessandro Pierre Guidi, James Calado
Photo: JEP / motorsports pictures
Ferrari is preparing to defend his GTE Pro title after James Calado completed a pit stop under FCY’s first drive to push the #51 Ferrari he shares with Alessandro Pier Guidi from third to the lead.
The other Ferrari of Miguel Molina comes in second after teammate Antonio Foucault passed the fast #92 Porsche Kevin Esther during what was then the battle for the lead at the end of the first hour.
The #64 Corvette, which also stopped under FCY as the #51 Ferrari, runs in third after trading positions with #92 Porsche in the first half of the race.
The five-car GTE Pro field is backed by the #91 Porsche by Richard Leitz.
Sarah Bovey leads the GTE Am class in the #85 Iron Dames Ferrari 488 GTE after four hours of racing.
TF Sport Aston Martin is still on its way to winning the title with third place.