Toyota is on track to win the opening World Endurance Championship event of the year with just over an hour left in the Sebring 1000 Miles.
The No.6 Team Penske-driven Porsche took up third place after Ferrari’s Nicklas Nielsen made a pit stop, giving Jose Maria Lopez a significant advantage over teammate Ryo Hirakawa heading into the second half of the race.
Richard Westbrook’s Cadillac was then promoted to the final podium spot until his own pit stop by Porsche’s Andre Lotterer and Ferrari’s Antonio Giovinazzi, who had pitted from fourth place.
The leading Toyota also made a pit stop at the same time, which moved Hirakawa ahead of the rest of the pack. Hirakawa then entered the pits and exited 4.3 seconds after Lopez and a lap before Nielsen.
The #51 Ferrari crashed when attempting to pass GTE Am class cars after Giovinazzi gave the wheel to Alessandro Pier Guidi, causing a Full Course Yellow flag, which allowed Hirakawa to narrow the distance to his teammate by two seconds.
The damage wasn’t too severe initially, but Pier Guidi drove too fast on his way to the pits, which caused the rear-left of his car to be torn apart and left pieces of it all over the track. A ten-second stop-go penalty for the crash, together with time-consuming repairs, eliminated him from podium contention.
Before Lotterer pitted, Giovinazzi had come dangerously close to overtaking him on the racetrack. When Lotterer re-entered the race, he had a significant impact on the LMP2 class battle by taking too long to warm up his tires and obstructing two cars that were battling but managed to pass his Porsche.
After the pit stop cycle was over, Westbrook reclaimed third place and led Antonio Fuoco, who had taken over Nielsen’s #50 Ferrari, by 44 seconds.
Toyota made the decision to pit Hirakawa from second place and Lopez one lap later following the Full Course Yellow period and Jacques Villenevue’s Vanwall spin.
This time, the overcut worked best as Kamui Kobayashi, who had replaced Lopez in the lead, kept the number seven car there and eventually pulled away from a disgruntled Sebastien Buemi in the #8 car by a second per lap.
Fuoco was back on the podium and had a 40-second lead over Laurens Vanthoor in the #6 Porsche after Westbrook’s subsequent pit stop, which saw him drop from third to fifth.
In just a few laps, Vanthoor also made a pit stop, and Ferrari was able to bring in Fuoco without losing any positions because of the size of the gap.
As Buemi’s irritation mounted, he returned to the track two laps behind the Toyotas, who were now about ten seconds apart, and a few seconds ahead of Earl Bamber, who had taken over from Westbrook.