(Reuters) - Intermittent rain showers caused a spate of minor accidents in the opening four hours of the Le Mans 24-hour race in France on Saturday as Porsche fought Toyota for the early lead.
As the circuit began to dry following a second shower and a second ‘slow zone’ with safety cars on the track, New Zealander Brendon Hartley set the pace for Porsche ahead of the leading Toyota that had Frenchman Stephane Sarrazin at the wheel.
Hartley took over the number 20 Porsche from German Timo Bernhard and traded the lead with Sarrazin as the teams switched between wet and dry tires in out-of-sequence pit stops.
Former Formula One driver Mark Webber of Australia is the third man in the Porsche while Sarrazin shares his Toyota with Austrian Alex Wurz and Japanese Kazuki Nakajima who claimed pole for his team on Thursday.
The early accidents included a dramatic collision between the number three Audi of Italian Marco Bonanomi with the number eight Toyota of Frenchman Nicolas Lapierre as they ran close together in second and third.
The damage caused appeared to have ruled the Audi out of the race but the Toyota continued after repairs in the pits.
Writing by Tim Collings, editing by Tony Jimenez