Porsche topped both of the four hour practice sessions at a wet and windy test day ahead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
New Zealand’s Brendon Hartley set the pace with a 3:21.061s lap aboard the #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid on a drying track, eclipsing #18 driver Neel Jani’s fastest time in the morning session by 0.8 seconds.
Audi Sport Team Joest pilot Marco Bonanomi was third quickest overall, 1.2 seconds adrift of Hartley’s benchmark. Audi’s low downforce package proved effective on the 8.4 mile La Sarthe circuit, as all three cars were able to keep within two seconds of the leading Porsche.
However, with three of the four fastest cars on track this weekend, Porsche is now the bookies’ favourite to take pole position for the 83rd running of the famous race.
A 3:25.321s lap from the returning Kazuki Nakajima ensured Toyota’s place as the third fastest manufacturer, although the deficit of four seconds to Hartley’s Porsche suggests that further progress needs to be made if the Japanese squad is to mount a serious challenge in qualifying.
Nissan finished the test day 22 seconds off the pace, with Frenchman Olivier Pla going quickest. All of the team’s works drivers gained mileage aboard the Nissan GT-R LM NISMO, which will make its race debut at the main event on June 13. Some, including Max Chilton and Alex Buncombe, also completed laps in one of two Ginetta-Nissan LMP3 machines run by Team LNT.
The test highlighted teething issues for the new Nissan, which has garnered plenty of attention with its radical front-engine design. Two of the cars stopped on track during the day’s running, with one bringing out the red flag. However, the Japanese squad did manage to claim the speed trap honours as Pla dialed in at 208 mph on the Mulsanne Straight.
Rebellion Racing won the privateer LMP1 match-up against fellow AER engine carriers Team Bykolles, thanks to a 3:30.508s lap in the morning session from Mathias Beche.
In LMP2, GT ace Laurens Vanthoor demonstrated his transferable talent by setting the morning pace in the #34 OAK Racing Ligier. The Audi factory driver, who is making his Le Mans debut this year with Kevin Estre and Chris Cumming, produced a fastest lap of 3:41.919s that would stand as the best time of the day. Paul-Loup Chatin ended the day as the second quickest driver and the fastest of the open-top LMP runners, after submitting a 3:42.273s in the Signatech Alpine A450b.
Karun Chandhok topped the afternoon session for ELMS squad Murphy Prototypes, which doubled as the third quickest LMP2 time overall, 0.4 seconds adrift of Vanthoor.
Darren Turner took advantage of a drying track to head the time-sheets in GTE-Pro. The Aston Martin works driver pedalled the #97 machine, which will sport a one-off ‘art car’ livery during the race, to a 3:58.069s lap in the second session.
Turner’s effort was marginally faster than the morning’s best lap time, set by fellow Briton Oliver Gavin in the #64 Corvette C7.R.
Gianmaria Bruni (#51 AF Corse Ferrari) and Frédéric Makowiecki (#92 Porsche Team Manthey) set the third and fourth fastest times of the day to place all four GTE manufacturers in the top four spots, spread by less than a second.
Pedro Lamy repeated Turner’s feat by recording a fast lap in the second session to top GTE-Am. The Portuguese driver’s scorching 2:59.338s time was 1.3 seconds better than Raffaele Gianmaria, who had set the pace for AF Corse in the opening four hours.
Adam Carroll completed the top three in the Gulf Racing Porsche, one of the reserve entries for the main race.
Full results from the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans test day to follow.