Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López in the #7 TS050 HYBRID held the advantage after completing 196 laps. The #8 TS050 HYBRID of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso was running second, 1min 15.326 behind, having lost ground due to a stop-go penalty.
The opening six hours had seen both TS050 HYBRIDs firmly establish themselves in the lead, with both cars closely matched. At one quarter distance the #8 car, which started the race from pole position, led by just a few seconds.
But early in his first stint Kamui in the #7 closed to the rear of Kazuki and got past on lap 102 just before making a fuel stop. When the #8 did likewise, pole position winner Kazuki rejoined the track less than two seconds behind the leader as the pair fought an exciting battle at the front.
With almost a third of the race, and 125 laps, completed, Sébastien took over the #8 in second place and ran closely behind Kamui in the lead #7 car, with neither driver taking any unnecessary risks at such a relatively early stage of the race.
After 137 laps, Mike returned to the cockpit of the #7 for his second time behind the wheel, inheriting a small lead. That gap grew to around 40secs when an unfortunately-timed slow zone cost Sébastien time during a fuel stop.
The #8 fell further behind a few minutes later when Sébastien was punished with a 60-second stop-go penalty for breaking the slow zone speed limit, putting him 2mins 20secs behind so when Fernando took over the car after 169 laps he set about closing that gap.
With half distance approaching, and 181 laps in the book, Mike’s stint ended and José resumed in the lead heading into the second part of the race.
Mike Conway (TS050 HYBRID #7): “We are only halfway so there’s still a long way to go. We are running as a team and trying not to take too many risks. It was quite close for a while but we got the buffer and now we will try to keep that. We have seen how you can lose a lot of time with slow zones and safety cars. Even though we have a decent lead it can disappear quickly so we have to keep doing what we are doing.”
Kamui Kobayashi (TS050 HYBRID #7): “I think my stint was quite good but for most of the session I struggled with traffic. It’s a long race so I tried to be cool and not push like crazy. It’s quite difficult. I tried not to take any risks but sometimes things can happen so we have to be careful and have a quiet race. We are in good shape; the most important target is to keep the car in one piece.”
Sébastien Buemi (TS050 HYBRID #8): “I was unlucky with the slow zone at my pit stop which cost us some time; until then I had been very close to the #7. It was unfortunate to have the drive through as that put us quite a bit behind but there is half the race remaining so many things can happen. We are in the game and that’s the main thing at this stage.”
Kazuki Nakajima (TS050 HYBRID #8): “It’s a good position for the team to have two cars at the front but we have to stay calm and take care to have a clean race until the end. The traffic was pretty bad for me and I wasn’t taking any risks on my stint. It went well and I was running very close to Kamui for most of it. There’s still a long way to go so we need to keep our heads down.”