Porsche dominated the free practice session at the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans with a 1-2 for their Porsche 919 Hybrids, being two of only three cars to break beneath the 3:23 barrier on the Circuit de La Sarthe.
The beginning of the session actually saw Toyota Gazoo Racing on top with Anthony Davidson setting the early benchmark of 3:25.437 to give the team at least a temporary confidence boost that they would at least be roughly on the pace of the Porsche and Audi crews.
However, as the rain began to pour with the first hour nearly completed Loic Duval moved the #8 Audi Sport Team Joest R18 into top spot with a 3:24.852. They would lower that time later down to a 3:22.985 but pushing the car back into the garage with 40 minutes of the session to go isn’t how the four rings would have liked to have ended the first real session of the week.
Having a worse time though was the ByKolles crew in LMP1-L. As the rain fell, Pierre Kaffer had to stop the CLM P1/01 on the Forza Motorsport Chicane as the engine decided to barbecue itself.
That brought out a red flag as the marshals put out the fire and recover the car off track.
It was also relatively early on in the session that the #7 Audi of Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler set their fastest time of 3:25.526 to mark a session where they also hit problems at points.
With the red flag lifted, and the track slowly drying, Porsche moved to the front with Brendon Hartley clocking a 3:22.550 being the second of two personal best laps before the red flag came out again because of the RGR Sport by Morand LMP2 machine hitting the tyres at Indianapolis.
When the track action got going again, there was trouble-free running towards the end of the session for the #2 Porsche when they set their 3:22.011 on their penultimate lap.
The #6 Toyota had an issue towards the end of the race as Stephane Sarrazin lost the car coming out of Indianapolis and hit the barriers hard. He managed to limp the car back to the pits but that had serious front-end damage.
In the privateer LMP1 class, Rebellion Racing had a trouble free run to set times in the 3:28s for both the #12 and the #13.
KCMG was fastest in the session for the secondary prototype class but left it till their second to last lap of the session to set a 3:339.133 to relegate the Signatech Alpine into second.
Just after Nicolas Lapierre set his fastest lap, Paul Loup Chatin in the Panis Barthez Competition machine clocked a 3:40.308 to claim third place.
Chatin was lucky to claim third though, he just squeezed ahead of the Eurasia Motorsport Oreca 05 which set a 3:40.321 – a sign that the LMP2 battle could be the one to watch come the start of the race on Saturday.
Notable elsewhere, the IMSA WeatherTech Championship regulars Michael Shank Racing who finished the session tenth in their Ligier JSP2.
The AF Corse Ferrari of Gianmaria Bruni, James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi drew first blood in the GTE Pro battle as they shut out the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE by 0.3 seconds.
Behind the two Ferraris were three Ford GTs with the Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA car of Joey Hand, Dirk Muller and Sebastien Bourdais leading the two Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK machines.
The fastest Aston Martin Racing machine was down in 12th place as they appeared to focus more on set-up than outright pace. They were beaten by both factory Porsches as they got themselves in the mid-field soup which saw a sizeable chunk of the of the category stuck in the 3:55s.
Singapore’s Clearwater Racing grabbed the top spot in the more gentleman focussed Am section of the GTE field as Rob Bell took the Ferrari 458 Italia by the scruff of the neck and dragged it past a handful of other entries to set their time of 3:57.543 during the dying embers of the session.
Behind was the American Ferrari 458 of Scuderia Corsa which was more than 1.5 seconds behind with 3:59.103 the best they could manage.
To complete the Ferrari domination in GTE Am, the AF Corse entry of Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Rui Aguas would finish in third place and only one-tenth behind the Scuderia Corsa entry.
Behind them was the first non-Ferrari – the Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR which set a 3:59.592.