Toyota started its first-ever race with the all-new GR010 Hybrid on the front foot by qualifying both cars on the front row, but its narrow pace advantage over the #36 Alpine A480-Gibson meant the Japanese giant needed a relatively smooth race to secure victory.
That didn’t happen however, with polesitter Kamui Kobayashi throwing away the lead in the second half of the race by going off the track at Bruxelles in the #7 car, losing a lap in the process.
The #8 car also had its issues, notably receiving a 30-second time penalty for an early pitstop infraction, in which the Toyota crew took the refuelling hose off the car six seconds short of the required 35-second minimum time.
That gave Alpine a fighting chance to take a win with the grandfathered and pegged back LMP1 car, which was run by Rebellion until last season.
In the #36 car Nicolas Lapierre, Andre Negrao and Matthieu Vaxiviere traded the lead with the #8 Toyota depending on the pitstop sequence, but ultimately couldn’t live with the #8 Toyota’s race pace.
Sebastien Buemi crossed the line with a 1m07 gap on Negrao, who was further held back by a late puncture.
The #7 Toyota took on the lion’s share of the Cologne team’s teething issues with its all-new Hypercar, losing time with a slow pitstop early on and having to do a full system reset during a late full-course yellow. Kobayashi ultimately took third, one minute clear of the leading LMP2 car, after also having to take a drive-through for Lopez hitting the #91 Porsche at the Bus Stop.
LMP2: United Autosports dominates
In LMP2 United Autosports produced another crushing display with its #22 Oreca 07-Gibson.
Phil Hanson, polesitter Filipe Albuquerque and newcomer Fabio Scherer led from start to finish and amassed a healthy one-minute lead, with only a late drive-through penalty for a full-course yellow violation able to dent their dominant lead.
The #26 G-Drive Aurus-badged Oreca driven by Roman Rusinov, Franco Colapinto and Nyck de Vries looked set for second place after being driven to the front by De Vries, but the team was forced to abandon the race with an oil leak in the fifth hour.
That promoted the #28 JOTA Oreca of Stoffel Vandoorne, Sean Gelael and Tom Blomqvist to second, but a drive-through for dangerous driving by Blomqvist handed second to the #38 sister car of Antonio Felix da Costa, Roberto Gonzalez and Anthony Davidson.
The #38 trio finished 44 seconds behind the winners, with #28 car a further minute in arrears.
Racing Team Nederland took a Pro-Am win courtesy of a trouble-free run by Giedo van der Garde, Frits van Eerd and Job van Uitert, beating Inter Europol to fourth in class.
Early LMP2 Pro-Am frontrunner DragonSpeed was hampered by a drive-through for Juan Pablo Montoya – for causing a collision – and lost further time to finish seventh in class and third in Pro-Am, behind RealTeam Racing.
Series debutant Team WRT also fell away from the front due to a clutch issue, but the Belgian squad’s Oreca also looked competitive in the hands of Robin Frijns, Ferdinand Habsburg and Charles Milesi.
GTE Pro: Porsche defeats Ferrari
In a five-car GTE Pro class, the #92 Porsche 911 RSR-19 of Kevin Estre and Neel Jani proved the pick of the field.
Picking up where he left off after his stunning pole on Friday, Estre continued to dominate the field during the opening stages of the race, with only a puncture being able to worry the Porsche factory team.
Estre and GTE debutant Jani took the win 25 seconds ahead of the first of the AF Corse Ferraris, the #51 488 GTE Evo of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi.
The #52 sister car of Miguel Molina and Daniel Serra, another car hit with a drive-through for full-course yellow infractions, completed the podium 1m38 behind.
Chevrolet finished a distant fourth on its first outing outside North America with the C8.R, one lap behind the class leaders.
Antonio Garcia shared the #63 machine with Oliver Gavin, who made his final appearance as a professional racer after a glittering 20+ year career, which included five Le Mans wins for Corvette.
The second Porsche, the #91 of Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz, finished last in class after suffering two right-rear punctures and being punted off by the #7 Toyota.
GTE Am: AF Corse wins as Rovera shines
The #83 AF Corse dominated the GTE Am class. After being established at the forefront by Francois Perrodo, Italian GT champion Alessio Rovera underlined his credentials by sprinting away from the field.
Nicklas Nielsen finished the job, crossing the line with a 1m08 lead on the #33 TF Sport Aston Martin of standout amateur Ben Keating, Felipe Fraga and Dylan Pereira.
The #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche of Alessio Picariello, Marco Seefried and Andrew Haryanto look set to finish third, but it too was hit with a FCY-related 30-second penalty and was demoted to fifth.
That promoted the #47 Cetilar Ferrari of Roberto Lacorte, Giorgio Sernagiotto and Antonio Fuoco to third in class.