Celebrating its return to top level sportscar racing, the Porsche Team has claimed the front row of the provisional grid for Saturday’s 82nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the third round of the FIA World Endurance Championship, in what turned out to be a very shortened first two hours of qualifying.
Brendon Hartley set the fastest time of the night qualifying session with a lap of the 14km track in a time of 3:23.179 in the No.20 Porsche 919 Hybrid, 0.77seconds ahead of team mate Neel Jani in the No.14 LMP1 Porsche. Third quickest was No.7 Toyota TS040 Hybrid of Stephane Sarrazin, although the latter’s hybrid car came to a halt on the track due to a loss of engine oil pressure.
What should have been two hours of practice turned out to be just 46 minutes in the end when the red flag stoppages were taken into account. There were multiple accidents and stoppages, the most serious of which saw the session brought to a premature close at 23h30. The decision was made as barrier repairs were needed at the Porsche Curves following heavy contact by Fernando Rees in the No.99 Aston Martin Vantage V8. The Brazilian was taken to the Medical centre for precautionary checks, but was released soon after with no injuries.
The two Rebellions R-Ones continued to run well in the LMP1-L sub-category, with the No.13 out-pacing its sister car by less than two tenths of a second.
In LMP2, the WEC’s G-Drive Racing No.26 Morgan Nissan was back in its usual place at the top of the class time sheets, Olivier Pla setting the team’s best lap with a time of 3.38.843. Second in class was ELMS entrant Signatech Alpine, the No.36 Alpine A450b Nissan in the hands of Paul-Loup Chatin and half a second in arrears from the Russian-entered G-Drive car. Alexandre Imperatori put in a solid performance in the No.47 KCMG ORECA 03R Nissan to claim third on the provisional grid, his time of 3:39.586 being just one tenth behind Signatech. SMP Racing’s Nicolas Minassian was the cause of one of the red flags earlier in the session, but the Frenchman stepped unharmed from the car which is now receiving the attentions of his team.
LMGTE Pro saw a Ferrari-Aston Martin-Porsche combination at the top of the classification, with the No.51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia leading the way by three tenths of a second. Gianmaria Bruni’s lap of 3:54.754 was the benchmark, with Stefan Mücke’s No.97 Aston Martin Vantage V8 closest, followed by the No.92 Porsche Team Manthey 911 RSR in third – that car making up lost time following its driveshaft problems at the start of the earlier free practice sessions.
The fastest of the LMGTE Am cars was the SMP Racing Ferrari from the ELMS, which unfortunately ended its session in a gravel trap, but it was followed closely behind by the No.61 AF Corse Ferrari entry, its best time of 3:56.919 being set by Marco Cioci. The Dempsey Proton Porsche and Proton Competition No.88 Porsche 911 RSR were immediately behind – Klaus Bachler doing the honours in the WEC entry.
Following the serious accident which befell Loïc Duval in the No.1 Audi, the good news came through that Duval had suffered no more than grazed skin. However, it has been announced that – following a request to the Stewards of the Meeting – Marc Gené will replace Duval in the No.1 R18 e-tron quattro which is being rebuilt overnight. The Spaniard, who was due to have raced in the No.38 JOTA Sport LMP2 entry, is in turn being replaced in the British car by Oliver Turvey who will present himself and all his racing equipment to the Secretary of the Meeting and receive a special briefing from the Race Director.