Peugeot Sport commanded the top three positions at Le Mans as the first hour of the French classic came to a close, having spent more than half of it behind the safety car after Nigel Mansell crashed.
The first 20 minutes of the race saw a fascinating battle develop between the leader Pedro Lamy in the the No. 3 908 HDi FAP and Franck Montagny in the flying No. 2 car. Montagny passed Marc Gene in the third Peugeot on lap three and had begun to close down Lamy for the lead when Mansell crashed his Ginetta out of 14th place in the run between Mulsanne Corner and Arnage.
The accident, which required the 1992 F1 World Champion to be extracted from the car and taken away by ambulance, after his Zytek LMP1 backed heavily into the wall, prompted three safety cars to emerge simultaneously which broke up the field.
Controversially, the second of these came out after the fourth-placed ORECA Peugeot, driven by Nicolas Lapierre, and ahead of Allan McNish's leading Audi R15 TDI. This created an artificial minute gap between the pair, who had diced spectacularly in the early laps.
The three safety cars pulled in with 10 minutes of the hour remaining and Montagny immediately renewed his pursuit of his Portuguese stablemate, however as the clock struck 1600, he remained around 0.9sec behind. Gene, running a slower pace, dropped off the back of this pair and ran third, six seconds back.
McNish, made the most of the traffic and led an Audi train of three cars, Timo Bernhard and Marcel Faessler following, as the silver cars closed to 50sec off the lead. Lapierre dropped to seventh after pitting under the safety car for tires and fuel.
The rules regarding pitting during safety cars meant that several drivers found themselves waiting for several minutes at the end of the pitlane waiting to join the appropriate queue back on track. Among these were the Aston Martins of Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke as well as the Drayson Lola. All these cars dropping several positions.
It meant that by the hour's end Christophe Bouchut's Kolles Audi had moved up to eighth ahead of Neel Jani's Rebellion Lola and Soheil Ayari in the ORECA.
Strakka Racing's Jonny Kane withstood a significant pursuit from the similar Highcroft Acura HPD at the top of the LMP2 class. David Brabham remained second ahead of Olivier Pla in the Quifel Ginetta.
Thomas Mutsch inherited the lead of GT1 in the second Matech car, when both Bas Leinders in another Ford GT and erstwhile leader Peter Kox pitted under the safety car.
Olivier Gavin led from the outset in GT2, initially from his Corvette teammate Jan Magnussen and Jean Alesi's AF Corse Ferrari. In the end, though, it was Marc Lieb and Patrick Long's Porsches that were giving pursuit.