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Race report

WEC Qatar: Porsche leads Peugeot at halfway point of season-opener

Porsche held a commanding lead over Peugeot at the halfway mark of the World Endurance Championship’s opening round in Qatar.

#6 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963: Kevin Estre, Andre Lotterer, Laurens Vanthoor

Shameem Fahath

Andre Lotterer was circulating 28s out in front in the factory #6 Porsche Penske 963 LMDh after five hours of racing in the Qatar 1812Km, as the order stabilised after a chaotic start at the Losail International Circuit.

The Porsche moved into the lead at the beginning of the second hour when the #93 Peugeot 9X8 of Nico Muller ran wide at Turn 1, allowing Lotterer’s team-mate Laurens Vanthoor to surge to the front.

Vanthoor was able to extend his advantage to almost 40 seconds by the end of his stint, before handing over the car to Lotterer, who joined the track with just over half a minute in hand.

Although Lotterer lost close to 10 seconds to the #93 Peugeot driven by Jean-Eric Vergne at the beginning of his stint, he was able to claw back the lost time by the next round of pitstops, just short of 4pm local time in Doha.

It was Ferrari who led the early stages of the race, with Miguel Molina jumping from fourth to first with a rapid getaway in the factory #50 499P. However, Molina’s stint at the front proved to be short-lived, with Muller finding it easy to slip past the Italian into Turn 2 in the first 20 minutes of the race.

Muller was able to build a buffer of 9s at one stage before slipping into the clutches of Vanthoor, who was able to immediately pull clear after making the crucial pass for the lead.

Muller and team-mate Vergne were able to consolidate second position in the first part of the 10-hour contest, keeping the #93 Peugeot clear of Jota’s #12 Porsche that lost time by switching drivers at every pitstop.

The Jota would drop to fourth just before the halfway point of the race, behind the #5 Porsche now driven by Frederic Makowiecki.

The polesitting car, however, is running out of kilter after Michael Christensen was forced into making an early pitstop due to reported vibrations.

AF Corse’s customer 499P was the best-placed Ferrari at the halfway point of the race in fifth, a result of the factory team receiving a double blow in the second hour of the race.

After the #50 Ferrari picked up a penalty for crossing the white line, James Calado in the sister #51 499P made contact with the #59 United Autosports McLaren at Turn 15, losing the entire rear bodywork as a consequence.

The subsequent repair work dropped the car almost two laps off the lead in 18th place, ending any hopes of a victory.

The second of the two Jota Porsches held sixth position with Oliver Rasmussen at the wheel.

#51 Ferrari Af Corse Ferrari 499P: Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi

#51 Ferrari Af Corse Ferrari 499P: Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi

Photo by: Shameem Fahath

Toyota continued to struggle at the start of the 2024 WEC, with Kamui Kobayashi running a distant seventh after a slow start from team-mate Mike Conway in the #7 GR010 Hybrid.

Sebastien Buemi in the #8 Toyota also got a poor getaway and has already dropped off the lead lap.

Cadillac's Alex Lynn collided with the #38 Jota Porsche of Phil Hanson at the start of the race, an incident that also caused Alex Lynn to steer into the path of Paul di Resta in the #94 Peugeot and pick up serious damage to his V-Series.R.

Lynn and his team-mates were able to get back inside the top 10, running eighth ahead of the recovering #50 Ferrari and the #36 Alpine A424 of Matthieu Vaxievere. The lead Alpine, however, was yet to make its sixth stop at the time of writing.

The top BMW placed 13th with Sheldon van der Linde piloting the #20 M Hybrid V8.

The Hypercar field was completed by newcomer Isotta Fraschini and its Tipo 6 Competizione LMH car, which headed into the garage just before hour five with mechanical problems.

The car had previously been running nine laps off the lead due to a combination of a lack of pace and a hefty 200-second stop/go penalty for an unspecified technical infringement.

#54 Vista AF Corse Ferrari 296 LMGT3: Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci, Davide Rigon

#54 Vista AF Corse Ferrari 296 LMGT3: Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci, Davide Rigon

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

In the new LMGT3 class, AF Corse shot to the lead after factory driver Davide Rigon took the cockpit of the #54 Ferrari 296 GT3 in the fifth hour of the race.

The #92 Manthey Pure Rxcing-entered Porsche 911 GT3 R had previously led the race after its bronze-rated driver Aliaksandr Malykhin eased past the polesitting #81 TF Sport Corvette Z06.R of Tam van Rompuy just 15 minutes into the start.

Van Rompuy continued to tumble down the order in his first stint, while the #81 Corvette also lost a huge chunk of time later in the race when the car stopped at the pitlane entry with gearbox troubles.

It meant Alex Riberas ran second in the #27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage, with Francois Heriau holding third position in the #56 AF Ferrari that had leapt up the order thanks to a charging stint from platinum-rated Alessio Rovera.

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