Toyota is on course to win the first World Endurance Championship race of the year, as their hypercars occupy the top two positions at the Sebring 1000 Miles with just over an hour to go.
Jose Maria Lopez went into the second half of the race with a growing lead over team mate Ryo Hirakawa, with the number six Team Penske-run Porsche occupying third place after Ferrari’s Nicklas Nielsen pitted.
Andre Lotterer then pitted the Porsche, and Ferrari’s Antonio Giovinazzi pitted from fourth, promoting Cadillac’s Richard Westbrook up to the final podium place until his own pit stop.
The lead Toyota pitted at a similar time, putting Hirakawa at the front of the race for a lap before he also made his way into the pit lane and re-emerged 4.3 seconds behind Lopez and a lap ahead of Nielsen.
Lapped traffic enabled Hirakawa to close the gap to his team mate, and it was at two seconds before a Full Course Yellow period caused by the #51 Ferrari crashing while lapping GTE Am class cars after it was handed over by Giovinazzi to Alessandro Pier Guidi.
Initially the damage was not too bad, but Pier Guidi drove too quickly on his way to the pits and it led to the rear-left of his car being ripped apart and debris being left around the track. Lengthy repairs, plus a ten-second stop-go penalty for the incident, removed him from podium contention.
Giovinazzi had come to close to passing Lotterer on track before the latter pitted, and when Lotterer returned to track he influenced the fight in the LMP2 class by being slow to warm up his tyres and getting in the way of two cars that were fighting another that successfully got past his Porsche.
Once the pit stop cycle played out, Westbrook was in third again and 44 seconds clear of Antonio Fuoco who had taken over the #50 Ferrari from Nielsen.
Following the Full Course Yellow period, and a spin for Vanwall’s Jacques Villenevue, Toyota chose to pit Hirakawa from second and do the same with Lopez a lap later. This time the overcut worked best, with Kamui Kobayashi keeping the number seven car back in the lead after taking over from Lopez and then pulling away by a second per lap from an unhappy Sebastien Buemi in the #8 car.
Westbrook went from third to fifth with his next pit stop, putting Fuoco back onto the podium and with a 40 second gap to Laurens Vanthoor in the #6 Porsche. It was only a handful of laps before Vanthoor pitted too, after which the gap was large enough for Ferrari to call in Fuoco without losing a position.
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