Jose Maria Lopez gave Toyota the early edge in first free practice for the 2021 Le Mans 24 Hours as the round-the-clock classic officially heralded the start of the Hypercar era.
The three-hour FP1 session marked the first chance to see how the new generation of cars - which are more compact and allow for more variations on the formula, one that will tweaked in the coming years as new manufacturers join the fray - fare around the 13.626km circuit.
Though early in the week - with three practice sessions and two qualifying practices leading up to the race itself on Saturday-Sunday - the #7 Toyota GR010 HYBRID in Lopez’s hands stopped the clock at 3m 29.309secs, around 15secs down on last year’s pole time.
Either way, it was a strong start for Toyota, comfortable winners in 2019 and 2020 as the only dedicated full factory entry, as Lopez hit the front with 30mins of the session remaining in the car shares with Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway.
Though the five-strong LMP1 class remains relatively slim in numbers - at least until planned full factory entries from Peugeot and Ferrari over the next two seasons - it was close up front with the second place Alpine/Gibson headed up by Andre Negrao only 0.090secs shy of the top spot, while the second Toyota led by Kazuki Nakajima was just 0.001secs further back in third.
With the two LMP1 Glickenhaus entries only sixth and seventh overall, the top five was completed by the best of the LMP2 entries, headed up by the United Autosports ORECA of Phil Hanson in fourth, while G-Drive Racing with its Aurus (re-badged ORECA) was fifth courtesy of newly crowned Formula E World Champion Nyck de Vries.
Jota Oreca were third fastest in LMP2 thanks to Tom Blomqvist, ahead of ther WRT ORECA of Louis Deletraz, while Paul-Loup Chatin (IDEC Sport) and Ben Hanley (DragonSpeed) rounded out the overall top ten.
In GTE Pro, Ferrari led the way early on with Daniel Serra in the factory AF Corse Ferrari 588 GTE Pro a full seven tenths up on last year’s pole-winning time to edge out by four hundredths Nick Tady in the #64 Corvette.
In GTE Am, Project 1 Porsche - headed up by Matteo Cairoli was quickest with a 3m 50.193secs lap.
The FP1 session was punctuated by two red flag periods, one caused by High Class Racing’s Marco Sorensen, who clipped the barriers leaving the pits in the LMP2 ORECA, with the second occurring when Antonio Felix Da Costa’s Jota had a run in with Antonio Fuoco’s Ferrari.