The first qualifying session at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans yesterday started with a bang: Porsche followed up their superiority in free practice with a spectacular first few laps in the evening session. Neel Jani proceeded to smash the previous lap record (3:19.074, from 2011) with a lap of 3:16.887.
The Porsche trio of Jani/Lieb/Dumas in the #18 car took provisional pole yesterday in the evening qualifying session at Le Mans. The lightening-quick lap, at an average speed of 249.2kph was a major declaration of intent by the Porsche team and was some three seconds quicker than the next non-Porsche entry. The German marque secured the top three places on the timesheet with the sister #17 (3:17.767) and #19 (3:19.297) cars.
Reigning Le Mans champions Audi were hot on the tail of the Porsches with its three cars. French driver Loic Duval recorded the #8 car’s fastest time of a 3:19.866, good enough for fourth position on the provisional grid. The #9 car was closely behind with a 3:21.081 and the #7 car finished the session in sixth with a fastest lap time of 3:21.839. Fässler and then Tréluyer spent time in the gravel trap throughout the session in their attempts to find the limit, while René Rast span his #9 car under red flag conditions towards the end of the session. The two Toyotas finished the session in seventh and eight position, roughly six seconds down on the leading Porsches.
Rebellion made a promising start to their timed runs and were just a couple of seconds behind the works Toyota TS040s, with the #12 car recording a fastest lap time of 3:26.874. LMP1 newcomer Nissan found it tough going in qualifying, unable to get close to the other factory entries or even the Rebellion R-Ones. In fact, only the #23 GT-R LM of Pla/Mardenborough/Chilton was able to beat the #4 ByKolles CLM P1 car, with the other two Nissans lagging behind on LMP2 pace.
Provisional pole in LMP2 went to KCMG after an eventful afternoon and evening. Nicolas Lapierre was evidently on the limit, running onto the grass on the run down to Tertre Rouge and almost having an enormous shunt. But it was Richard Bradley who would post the car’s quickest time of 3:38.032, almost a second ahead of the #41 Greaves Motorsport entry. Fellow ELMS entry Jota Sport finished the day in third place, with Oliver Turvey putting in a 3:39.004. KCMG’s performance in the brand-new Oreca 05 made the times of the only other Oreca 05 on the grid, run by the Thiriet by TDS Racing team, all the more surprising. The French team were almost two seconds down on the pole time in fifth position, just behind a rejuvenated G-Drive Racing car whose fastest time was posted by Sam Bird.
GTE was a story of Aston Martin domination. The British marque recorded a one-two-three in GTE-Pro, with Richie Stanaway in the #99 car posting the fastest time of the session of 3:54.928. Just half a second down on their teammates were Stefan Mücke, Darren Turner and Rob Bell in the #97 “art car” entry, with Mücke posting a 3:55.466 just as the session came to a close. The #95 all-Danish car completed the top-three lock-out. The Corvette C7Rs occupied fourth and fifth positions on the provisional GTE-Pro grid, between one and two seconds behind the Astons. Porsche Team Manthey and reigning world champions AF Corse both struggled for pace and finished the day over two seconds down on the pole time.
Aston Martin also dominated GTE-Am, with Pedro Lamy in the #98 car not only recording a time good enough for provisional pole (3:55.102), but also good enough for second position in GTE-Pro. The Ferrari F458 Italias had a better time of it in GTE-Am, with the #83 AF Corse car and #72 SMP Racing machine taking second and third respectively.
Take a look at yesterday’s full qualifying times here. Two further two-hour qualifying sessions follow this evening at 19:00 and 22:00 (local time).
Images: WEC-Magazin (Walter Schruff)