LE MANS, France: New Formula One chief Chase Carey waved a gold tasseled French tricolor to start the Le Mans 24 Hour Race on Saturday with Toyota enjoying a perfect getaway from pole.
Briton Mike Conway quickly established a healthy lead from the Porsche driven by last year’s winning driver Jani Neel.
The second of three Toyotas, with former F1 driver Sebastien Buemi at the wheel, was placed third at the sun-drenched Sarthe circuit.
Conway is sharing the driving with Stephane Sarrazin and Kamui Kobayashi, the Japanese driver who had electrified Le Mans fans with a record breaking lap to grab pole in qualifying.
Toyota are seeking a first ever win at the iconic four-wheeled endurance test after 18 attempts since 1985.
They came agonizingly close last year only for Kazuki Nakajima’s car to break down when in the lead in the final lap.
Nakajima is sharing the driving with Buemi, and another ex F1 driver, Anthony Davidson.
While Toyota are three-handed this year, Porsche are relying on only two cars as the German manufacturer goes in search of a third successive success.
Carey was joined at the start by race organizer Pierre Fillon and Jean Todt, the head of motorsport’s ruling body the FIA.
In stark contrast to last year’s storm-hit edition, the 2017 Le Mans is set to be staged without a drop of rain falling, with the mercury topping 30 degrees.
Among the 250,000-strong crowd was one of Le Mans’ most ardent fans, American film star Patrick Dempsey.
Ahead of Conway and company is a drive through dusk, night and dawn through to the finish at 1300 GMT on Sunday when the winner will have covered approximately the distance of a round trip from Paris to Moscow.