Kamui Kobayashi set the pace in opening free practice ahead of Saturday’s 8 Hours of Bahrain – the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship season finale – in a session that was blighted by storm activity.

Kobayashi’s time of 1:49.856s in the #7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid saw the Japanese driver head a Toyota 1-2 in what turned out to be a heavily delayed session.

Approximately 10 minutes into the session (12:24 local time/UTC +3) the red flag was brought out due to a sandstorm, a common risk at the desert-based Sakhir International Circuit.

With the storm whipping up an intense wind, the stoppage continued for some time and Race Control pushed back updates on the resumption of the session to 12:45, 12:55 and 13:00 local time (UTC+3).

With the storm, also came the rain and Race Control declared the track wet at 13:05 local time, with 50 minutes of the 90-minute session elapsed.

Race Control then deemed the session to be restarted at 13:10 local time, with an instruction for competitors to have rain lights on low mode.

Ahead of the stoppage, when barely 10 minutes of running had been made, the #8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid led the timesheets courtesy of Sebastien Buemi’s time of 1:49.966s.

Race Control’s next action was to extend the session due to the lengthy stoppage with a new finish of 14:30 local time, some 45 minutes post the original chequered flag time.

The extended running allowed competitors to make up for the lost time in the stoppage and acclimatise themselves with the Sakhir circuit.

With just under half an hour remaining, another caution, in the form of a full-course-yellow was implemented after Franck Dezoteux came to a halt at Turn 11 in the #21 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo.

The FCY lasted just five minutes, allowing for a further 20 minutes of green flag running should there be no further incidents.

No such incident occurred and at the end of the much-delayed session, the #7 Toyota sat atop the timesheet courtesy of the 1:49.856s lap time from Kobayashi.

Second went to the #8 Toyota, with Buemi bettering his earlier time to lap the Sakhir circuit in 1:49.960s.

Next up was one of the customer Porsche Hypercar entries, namely the #59 Proton Competition-run Porsche 963 of Gianmaria Bruni, who set a time of 1:50.290s/

Bruni bettered the two Penske-run factory Porsches, with the #6 piloted by Laurens Vanthoor setting the fourth fastest time of 1:50.328s and the #5 machine rounding out the top five courtesy of Michael Christensen’s time of 1:50.403s.

The fourth and final Porsche 963 came sixth in the order, with Will Stevens setting a time of 1:50.507s in the #38 Team Jota entry.

The sole Cadillac Racing entry took seventh, with Alexander Lynn lapping the Bahrain circuit in a time of 1:50.542s in the #2 Cadillac V-Series.R machine.

The two Ferrari 499Ps came eighth and ninth, with the #51 of James Calado (1:51.482s) bettering the #50 of Miguel Molina (1:51.722s) by approximately two-and-a-half-tenths.

The overall top-10 order was completed by Nico Muller in the #94 Peugeot 9X8, with the Swiss driver setting a time of 1:51.871s.

In LMP2, the title is in the hands of the #41 Team WRT Oreca 07, but the #41 crew weren’t toward the top of the class timesheet during FP1.

Instead, the #22 United Autosports entry topped the category courtesy of Filipe Albuquerque’s time of 1:54.100s, ahead of the #10 Vector Sport entry driven by Gabriel Aubry (1:54.654s) and the #31 Team WRT of Ferdinand Habsburg-Lothringen (1:54.684s).

In GTE Am, the title was wrapped up months ago in Monza, but the curtain call for this wonderful category means the number one spot this weekend is highly coveted.

In FP1, early bragging rights go to the #777 D’Station Racing Crew, thanks to Tomonobu Fujii’s time of 1:59.516s in the Aston Martin Vantage AMR machine.

Second in-class went to the #57 Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 GTE Evo of Daniel Serra (1:59.522s), with Benjamin Barker third in the #86 GR Racing Porsche 911 RSR-19 (1:59.550s).

The 8 Hours of Bahrain continues with the second free practice session, which commences at 17:30 local time (14:30 UTC).

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