Porsche Team retained its dominating position at the top of the time sheets in Thursday’s final qualifying sessions, with no improvements seen on the new lap record 3:16.887 posted by Neel Jani on Wednesday. Further down the grid, it was a disastrous day for Corvette Racing, with the American team forced to withdraw one of its C7.Rs due to accident damage.
As the early session began, it was already clear that the weather conditions in Le Mans would not be conducive to posting fast times. At the front of the grid, none of the Porsches improved on their times from Wednesday’s evening session and so the #18 Porsche 919 Hybrid took the first Le Mans pole for the Weissach-based team since the TWR Porsche WSC-95 of Michele Alboreto, Tom Kristensen and Stefan Johansson in 1997. Porsche also locked out second and third positions on the grid, with the #17 car of Hartley/Webber/Bernhard on the front row and the #19 car of Hülkenberg/Tandy/Bamber behind in third.
The three Audi R18 e-tron quattros will line up behind Porsche on the grid, with the #8 car of Jarvis/di Grassi/Duval in fourth followed by the #7 Tréluyer/Lotterer/Fässler machine and the #9 car driven by Filipe Albuquerque, Marco Bonanomi and René Rast, which was the only car in the top six to improve its time on Thursday evening. The other teams preferred to focus on pace over long runs. There were promising developments at Nissan, after all three factory cars improved their times by over five seconds. The fastest GT-R LM NISMO was the #22 machine in the hands of Harry Tincknell, which posted a 3:36.995 in yesterday’s evening session. Rebellion can also be pleased with their evening’s work, too, with the privateer R-Ones only three to four seconds down on the fastest of the Toyotas.
The day’s biggest story came in GTE-Pro: Danish driver Jan Magnussen had a major shunt halfway through the first qualifying session at the first right-hander into the Porsche Curves. A mechanical failure on the car caused the Corvette C7.R to spear right, into the barriers, before careering across the circuit and making contact with the wall on driver’s left. The Corvette suffered severe damage, and Magnussen had to be extricated from the car by the medical team. Fortunately, the Dane was shaken, but unharmed. After analysing the accident damage, the US team soon realised that the Corvette was beyond immediate repair and have been forced to withdraw the #63 C7.R of Magnussen/Garcia/Briscoe from Saturday’s race. The #99 Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage of Rees/Stanaway/MacDowall will start on pole, with the reigning champions Gianmaria Bruni, Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari in second and the #97 Aston Martin of Turner/Mücke/Bell in third.
In LMP2, the KCMG Oreca 05 Nissan is on pole – despite the best efforts of Sam Bird in the #26 G-Drive Racing machine. Richard Bradley’s time of 3:38.032 in the first qualifying session again proved unbeatable, with Sam Bird posting a fastest time of 3:38.989 in the Thursday evening session. British privateers Jota Sport and Greaves Motorsport will start the 24 hours in third and fourth positions respectively, with no further improvements on Wednesday’s times. Status quo was also retained in GTE-Am, with Wednesday’s provisional pole-sitters of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda in the #98 Aston Martin defending their pole position, but unable to get within four seconds of Wednesday’s times. The #83 AF Corse car will start the race in second position in GTE-Am, with the #72 SMP Racing car in third.
Image source: Porsche press material