Porsche Team have locked out the front row in their 919 Hybrids as the first of three qualifying sessions came to an end at the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans.
With teams focussed primarily on getting in all their mandatory laps before turning their focus to getting in the fast qualifying laps, positions are likely to change – but with bad weather forecast for Qualifying Two and Three tomorrow Porsche’s early strike could be crucial come Thursday night.
However, a number of yellow flags and slow zones for numerous incidents blocked a number of opportunities for faster laps from cars in all classes.
Neel Jani struck early to set a 3:19.733 to immediately show rivals that the #2 will not be messed with, especially coupled with the fact that the #1 finished five-tenths further back with a 3:20.203 to show just how on the ragged edge Jani really was.
Third and fourth went to the two Toyota Gazzo Racing TS050s with the #6 leading the #5 with a 3:20.737 and 3:21.903 respectively. All credit must be given to the Toyota mechanics as they rebuilt the front end of the #6 following a rather heavy crash in free practice.
Fifth and sixth were owned by Audi and their mechanics were also very good to get their cars out – especially the #8 which retired from free practice with a technical issue. Both will be no doubt pleased they managed to get the laps in they wanted to in the first two-hour session.
In the privateer LMP1-L sub-class for cars without Hybrid systems, the Rebellion Racing R-ONEs had a trouble-free run especially with no distraction from the ByKolles machine which was still undergoing a major rebuild after their free practice fire.
Action in the class was fast and frenetic as G-Drive Racing drew early blood with a 3:36.605 putting them as the only car going below the 3:37s as their distinctive orange Oreca 05 made the best of the traffic and slow zones that were springing up around La Sarthe.
One of those was for the Eurasia Motorsport Oreca which rear-ended the barrier just before the Mulsanne Straight and was lucky not to be collected by another car as Pu Junjun allowed the car to roll back onto the racing line.
Back at the sharp-end and it was the Baxi DC Racing Alpine Alpine A460 that made the leap into second place with a 3:37.175 putting them half-a-tenth up on the second Alpine in the class, the Signatech machine with Nicolas Lapierre behind the wheel.
Both of the Alpines knocked the Manor WEC Oreca down a few places to fourth but a good run out at their first Le Mans qualifying session will fill the team with confidence going on to the more crucial sessions tomorrow.
Dirk Muller waited until the session was almost over to put the Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA Ford GT on top of the timesheets in the lead GTE class with a 3:51.185 to stick himself ahead of Richard Westbrook in the sister Team USA Ford GT.
Before them, the favourable starting position was occupied by the #51 Ferrari 488 GTE of AF Corse, but they had no response to the pace of the Fords – no matter what Gianmaria Bruni tried.
Of note in the class, a suspected tyre of suspension failure saw the Risi Competizione Ferarri 488 GTE come to an early end in a horrifying spin after Giancarlo Fisichella was completely caught out by a high-speed failure. No damage was done, but their session came to an end early.
The highest Porsche in the class was the #92 Porsche Motorsport 911 RSR which finished eighth overall – one place ahead of the fastest Aston Martin Racing Vantage. Both cars seem to be suffering from a relative lack of performance compared to the Ferraris and Fords occupying the front half of the grid.
Clearwater Racing carried on their good form from the free practice session as a 3:56.827 put their Singaporean Ferrari 458 Italia three-tenths ahead of the #98 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage.
In a sign that GTE Am might be the most diverse of all the classes, AF Corse Ferraris occupied third and fourth on the grid and the Larbre Competition Corvette C7.R which ended the session fifth in the hands of Yutaka Yamagishi.
Behind them Christina Nielsen finished the session in the Formula Racing Ferrari in seventh.