Another year and more heartache at Le Mans for Aussie Mark Webber, whose Porsche is out of the running due to a mechanical issue.
Webber, who was driving with New Zealand’s Brendon Hartley and Germany’s Timo Bernhard led the race early but a water temperature issue ultimately ended their chances.
This is the latest in a long-line of unfortunate close calls for Webber at Le Mans, in 1999 his Mercedes flipped spectacularly in practice and he did not race and in 2015 he finished second.
The race is currently being led by Toyota after 17 hours after they fought a close battle with champions Porsche through the night at the Sarthe circuit in western France.
Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi was at the front of the field in the number five Toyota TS050 with Britain’s Mike Conway a close second in the Japanese manufacturer’s number six car.
The number two Porsche, with Switzerland’s Neel Jani at the wheel, was seconds behind with all three frontrunners lapping at a similar pace.
“We have been plugging away and putting in consistent lap times through the night, without taking unnecessary risks,” said Britain’s Anthony Davidson, who shares the number five Toyota with Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima.
“It’s a long race and we’ve got to stay in the fight all the way to the end. Everyone has done a good job so far; we’ll keep pushing.”
Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi, in the number six Toyota, lost precious seconds during his night stint when he made contact with a GT car.
Porsche and stablemates Audi have each entered only two cars instead of three in the main LMP1 category for cost-cutting reasons in the wake of parent company Volkswagen’s diesel emissions scandal.
Last year’s race was won by Germany’s Nico Hulkenberg, New Zealander Earl Bamber and Britain’s Nick Tandy but none of them are driving in the main LMP1 category this time.
Porsche, who returned to Le Mans with a works team in 2014 for the first time in 16 years, are the most successful manufacturer with 17 titles. Toyota have yet to finish higher than second.
The race, now in its 84th edition, also marks the return of Ford in the GTE Pro category with the U.S. manufacturer locked in a battle with Ferrari.