The 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans got underway at the weekend with the customary official day of testing at the Circuit de la Sarthe. Drivers and teams made full use of the eight hours of running to re-accustom themselves with the track, most of which is public roads for the majority of the year.
Glickenhaus Racing caused a minor upset after Frenchman Olivier Pla marked the US team’s Le Mans on-track debut with a fastest lap of 3:29.115 as the test day drew to a close. Pla’s lap came just eight minutes before the end of session two, usurping the times set previously by the pair of Toyota GR010 Hybrids.
Toyota worked through their test programme without any major issues, with the works hybrids completing a total of 208 laps. The #7 and #8 cars both posted their quickest times in the second session of the day as the track conditions improved.
The Toyotas’ lap times of 3:29.340 (#7 / Mike Conway) and 3:29.622 (#8 / Kazuki Nakajima) were around ten seconds slower than times posted by the LMP1 machines at the 2019 test day (no additional test day was held in 2020). The reduction in speed is part of rulemakers’ efforts to increase safety in the Hypercar category.
Alpine, aiming to record the first victory for a French team or manufacturer since 2009, were fourth fastest, ahead of the #709 Glickenhaus machine.
ELMS teams show strength in LMP2
IDEC Sport, Panis Racing and Team WRT made it a trio of European Le Mans Series entries at the top of the LMP2 timing sheets. Paul Loup Chatin’s fastest time of 3:31.105 for the #48 IDEC Sport entry was just 0.015 quicker than Will Stevens’ best effort of 3:31.120 in the #65 Panis Racing car. The #41 Team WRT Oreca, which is currently leading the ELMS championship with two rounds of the season remaining, was third-fastest.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for IDEC Sport though, as the sister #17 machine required some significant repair work after an incident involving an unknown other car in the first session. The #17 car, which is set to be driven by Ryan Dalziel, Dwight Merriman and Kyle Tilley, was unable to take part in the second session.
Porsche edge Ferrari in GTE Pro
This year’s GTE Pro entry has been significantly beefed up with the addition of a number of guest starters. Corvette Racing made a welcome return following their 2020 absence, while US team WeatherTech Racing and the Taiwanese-flagged Hub Auto Racing will be racing Porsches alongside the two-car works WEC entry.
Championship leaders Kévin Estre and Neel Jani, who are being joined by Michael Christensen in the #92 car for Le Mans, topped the timesheets ahead of the sister #91 car of Gianmaria Bruni, Richard Lietz and Frédéric Makowiecki.
WeatherTech Racing finished third fastest, followed by the pair of AF Corse Ferraris. Corvette Racing, whose C.8Rs are making their Le Mans debut this year, finished the sessions seventh and eighth fastest.
In GTE Am, the #99 Proton Competition was fastest, followed by the #56 Project 1 Porsche.
Almost 12 hours of further running ahead of race day
Teams and drivers will have a combined total of 11.5 hours of running – barring any red flags – to fine tune their cars ahead of the highlight of the FIA WEC season. The on-track action begins in earnest on Wednesday with FP1 from 2:00 pm local time. Qualifying is later the same night at 7 pm, with the half-hour Hyperpole session deciding pole on Thursday night between 9 pm and 9:30 pm.
Image © Glickenhaus Racing