Brendon Hartley was over 30s clear of the field after four hours of racing at the Bahrain International Circuit on Saturday, aided by early drama for Mike Conway in the sister #7 car at the start.
Conway had started second behind Hartley’s pole-sitting team-mate Sebastien Buemi but slipped to the rear of the Hypercar pack after being pitched into a spin by Earl Bamber, who locked up under braking for Turn 1 and couldn’t prevent his Cadillac from slamming the rear of the Toyota.
Conway was able to pull off an impressive recovery drive and get back up to third by the end of the opening hour, just behind the #51 Ferrari 499P of Alessandro Pier Guidi.
After another stint behind the wheel of the #7 GR010 Hybrid, Conway handed over the reins to Kamui Kobayashi, who quickly passed the #51 Ferrari now driven by James Calado to reclaim second.
But by this time Hartley was already more than half a minute up the road, thanks to an impressive double stint by Buemi in the opening two hours.
If the two Toyotas are in the same order at the end of the race, Hartley, Buemi and Ryo Hirakawa will be crowned the 2023 Hypercar champions.
Behind the two GR010 Hybrids, Calado continues to hold third place in the leading Ferrari after his team-mate Pier Guidi was let through by the #50 Ferrari of Miguel Molina in the opening hour.
The #50 Ferrari dropped to fifth in the same stint, after Will Stevens in the JOTA Porsche 963 was able to overtake Molina in the first stint of the race.
JOTA was the top Porsche team at the halfway point of the race, with the best of the factory Penske cars, the #6 entry driven by Kevin Estre, running in only sixth place.
Estre’s team-mate Laurens Vanthoor dropped from fourth to ninth at the start after having to run wide to avoid the collision between Bamber and Conway.
Vanthoor was able to make his way up the pack before handing over to Estre, passing the #5 Porsche then driven by Michael Christensen for sixth in the second hour.
Christensen’s team-mate Dane Cameron eventually dropped to eighth behind the Proton Porsche of Dane Cameron, after being hit with a five-second penalty for not respecting the Full Course Yellow Procedure.
Peugeot could make little recovery after a frustrating qualifying session, with the #94 9X8 of Gustavo Menezes circulating a lap down in ninth place.
The sister #93 car was slapped with a drive-through penalty for breaking the FCY rules, leaving it 10th.
Bamber picked up a hefty 60-second stop/go penalty for crashing into Conway at the start, consigning the sole factory Chip Ganassi Cadillac to a disappointing 11th after four hours of running.
United back in lead in LMP2
United Autosports led the LMP2 field at the halfway point of the race, despite the #23 ORECA 07 dropping to the bottom of the pack in an early collision.
IndyCar-bound Tom Blomqvist had qualified the car on pole position in his last WEC outing but both he and Alpine’s Matthieu Vaxiviere ran wide into Turn 1 and slipped to the middle of the pack.
Blomqvist then had nowhere to go when the sister United car of Phil Hanson collided with Vanwall LMH in front of him at Turn 2, with the Anglo-Swede running into the side of the stranded Vandervell 680.
All of this allowed Gabriel Aubry in the #10 Vector ORECA to claim the lead and the Frenchman was able to pull out an impressive lead of more than 30s in the first two hours, only for a 90-second stop/go penalty to end the outfit’s hopes of a maiden win.
The punishment brought United Autosports back into play and Jarvis was able to surge into the lead by the fourth hour, ahead of the #9 Prema car of Bent Viscaal.
Robin Frijns ran third in the #31 WRT after a stint at the front by team-mate Ferdinand Habsburg, while Pietro Fittipaldi was fourth in the #28 JOTA.
The points-leading #41 WRT sits sixth with Louis Deletraz at the wheel, one position clear of the Inter Europol ORECA of Jakub Smiechowski.
Le Mans 24 Hours-winning Inter Europol squad arrived in Bahrain with a remote chance of claiming the LMP2 title, but the #34 crew lost time after Albert Costa briefly stopped on track on the long dash between Turns 10/11 with what appeared to be an electrical issue.
Porsche in front in last GTE race
In GTE AM field, Iron Lynx enjoys a whopping advantage of 1m32s with Alessio Picarellio leading in the #60 Porsche 911 RSR-19.
However, the squad is yet to employ its bronze-rated driver Claudio Schiavoni, with Picarellio and Matteo Cresoni completing all four stints between them.
The pole-sitting Iron Dames team holds second with Sarah Bovy at the wheel of the #85 Porsche, while Michael Dinan ran third in the #25 ORT by TF Aston Martin Vantage.