Ben Keating Puts the No. 33 Corvette atop the GTE AM Grid; Paul-Loup Chatin Prevails in LMP2
It was a fine day in France for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports team. Teammates Ben Keating and Paul-Loup Chatin each won class pole positions for the Centenary 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Keating, the 2021 IMSA Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) series and Michelin Endurance Cup champion with 19 career IMSA top-series wins, earned the GTE AM pole position in the No. 33 Corvette Racing C8.R during the Le Mans’ Hyperpole qualifying session at the famed Circuit de la Sarthe on Thursday evening.
The 51-year-old Texan, in his first season with the Corvette Racing program in the FIA World Endurance Championship, set the early pace in the 30-minute session with a lap of 3 minutes, 53.0 seconds. After a red-flag stoppage, Keating went out again with fresh Michelin tires and clinched the class pole at 3:52.376 – with a whopping margin of more than 1.5 seconds over the competition.
"The sun had gone down and the tires really came into the window,” Keating said. “The air was a little cooler and we were at bare minimum of fuel, so I got one out-lap and then one flyer. I got the peak of the tire, the peak of low fuel, the peak of the temperature, and I put a lap together.
“It was pretty magical, especially considering how close we were to not even making qualifying yesterday (following a crash in practice). The team did an amazing job to get the car out where Nicky (Catsburg) could do what we needed to get us into Hyperpole, so I'm incredibly excited and happy for the entire team. This is the best way I can think of to go into the race!"
Meanwhile, Chatin – the 2021 Rolex 24 At Daytona LMP2 winner with Era Motorsports and Keating’s PR1 Mathiasen LMP2 teammate this season in the WeatherTech Championship – earned the pole in the Le Mans LMP2 class in the No. 48 IDEC Sport ORECA 07-Gibson. Chatin’s best lap was 3:32.923 to take pole by just a tenth of a second.
It came in a dramatic session under a setting sun to establish the top eight starting positions in each class. The Ferrari AF Corse team swept the front row overall. Antonio Fuoco won the pole position for Ferrari in the Hypercar class with a lap of 3:22.982 in the No. 50 Ferrari 499P – edging teammate Alessandro Pier Guidi in the No. 51 Ferrari by 0.773 seconds around the historic 8.467-mile course.
It was a strong statement for Ferrari, which boasts nine overall victories, but last won overall at Le Mans in 1965.
Le Mans native and IMSA star Sebastien Bourdais looked to make a major statement in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing V-Series.R fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing, turning in an impressive third-place time early in the session. But he had to pull off course due to a fire on the car with five minutes remaining.
The team said it was “working to find the cause” of the fire. Bourdais and co-drivers Renger van der Zande and Scott Dixon will start eighth.
“It was a solid effort on that fastest lap and the car was really good,” Bourdais said. “On the first attempt, the car really got hampered by traffic. The second one was then just the perfect storm. I got out, caught a bit of traffic, good prep lap and perfectly hot tires.
“Managed to do lap one on the peak of the tire and I got an amazing first sector and it was a really solid lap, then I started losing some time and it just went away.’’
The No. 75 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963 jumped to the fourth overall starting position with a late run following the red-flag period for Bourdais’ incident. Felipe Nasr, who’ll share the car with Mathieu Jaminet and Nick Tandy, posted a flyer of 3:24.531.
The traditional 24 Hours of Le Mans parade will run downtown today to mark the “Centenary,” or 100th anniversary, of the event. Teams return to the circuit Saturday for the twice-around-the-clock race that starts at 10 a.m. ET. NBA superstar LeBron James will wave the French flag to officially start the race.