Andre Lotterer ended the final qualifying session for the 24 Hours of Le Mans fastest but, despite the session ending on a dry track, Loic Duval’s time from the early laps of Thursday’s opening session held onto pole position for the 90th anniversary running of the race.
The session – extended by half an hour due to the number of red flags during the previous sessions – begun on a wet track but as the effects of the most recent downpour were burnt off and the teams shifted from wet tyres, through intermediates and onto slicks the times finally came close to challenging those set the previous day.
Though it was the only class where pole position did not change hands before the checkered flag the LMP1 class where the first significant move in the overall order came. After trailing one of the Rebellion Racing Lolas after the first session Stephane Sarrazin moved the #8 Toyota TS030 Hybrid into fifth, the Frenchman eventually putting the car fourth overall ahead of the #7 entry, but still behind the three Audis.
Sarrazin’s lap to go ahead of the Rebellion entry came between two red flags that punctuated the final hour. First Christophe Bourret crashed the #76 IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche on the approach to the first of the Mulsanne Straight chicanes, then Danny Watts had a similar accident in the Strakka Racing LMP1 under braking for the second chicane. Both accidents left debris on the track in the darkness, leading to the short red flags.
Lotterer’s best lap of the session 3:23.696 came on the first lap out after Watts’ accident had been cleared up to move into second on the grid past the #3 Audi. However, we was unable to improve any further allowing Duval, himself chasing improvement in the final minutes, to hold onto pole position.
A last gasp lap of 2:38.621 from OAK Racing’s Olivier Pla took pole position away from John Martin, who lap from Thursday kept second position in LMP2 in the #26 G-Drive Racing car.
Pla and the rest of the #24 team (David Heinemeier Hansson and Alex Brundle) had been pushed back to third in class from an overnight second when Oliver Turvey catapulted the Jota Zytek to second from mid-pack. Turvey’s effort will by the British team – also with drivers Simon Dolan and Lucas Luhr third in class ahead of Morand Racing, the second G-Drive Racing ORECA and KCMG’s Morgan-Nissan which Alexandre Imperatori gave a sixth place start on both his and the team’s Le Mans debut.
Aston Martin Racing swept the front row of LMGTE Pro, and took pole in both of the LMGTE classes.
In the Am class Allan Simonsen took nine tenths off his own provisional pole time to secure pole for the #95 team of he, Christoffer Nygaard and Kristian Poulsen. AMR were moments away from a 1-2 in both classes with Jamie Campbell–Walter moving the #96 up to second. However Paolo Ruberti replied for Proton Competition to reclaim the second place the Porsche squad held after Thursday’s session. Marco Cioci was another to move up the order in the closing laps, taking fourth in the best of the Ferraris in the class.
Improvements at the top of the Pro class stretched the class battle out from the seven-cars-in-a-second results of the first session.
As the battle for pole became an all Aston Martin affair Stefan Mucke improved the best time for the #97 car to 3:55.445 to take provisional for what turned out to be forty seconds before Fred Makowiecki retook the top spot for the #99 team.
With his very last lap, completed three minutes after the flag had fallen to end qualifying Marc Lieb moved the #92 Porsche AG Team Manthey car to third in class, leapfrogging the AF Corse #51 and the #98 Aston Martin in the process.
Though they too improved in the session – taking 1.2 seconds off their best time – Corvette Racing still have significant speed to find if they are to mount a challenge. Oliver Gavin gave the #74 a best time 3:58.644, still four seconds off the improved time of Makowiecki who clinched his second consecutive LMGTE Pro pole at Le Mans, following his exploits for Ferrari squad Luxury Racing twelve months ago.
Friday, as ever, is a down day for the teams in terms of times on track before the weekend. Saturday begins with warm-up before the 81st 24 Hours of Le Mans begins at 3pm local time (2pm UK time). www.theCheckeredFlag.co.uk will have full coverage of the race, with hour-by-hour updates throughout the event.