The pair of Porsche 919 Hybrid ended the first qualifying session for the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans on the front row, Brendon Hartley’s lap in the #14 machine holding provisional pole overnight.
The two hour session, unfortunately, was interrupted and then brought to an early end after a number of accidents. An off for Nicolas Minassian in the SMP Racing #37 ORECA-Nissan brought a red flag after half an hour of running that kept the Circuit de la Sarthe quiet for 20 minutes, restarting with 70 minutes of the session remaining.
Teams, however, would be brought back to the pits after just 15 minutes following Fernando Rees’ crash in the Porsche Curves. The Brazilian was unhurt in the accident, but the #99 Craft-Bamboo/Aston Martin Racing LMGTE Pro Aston Martin was heavily damaged in the accident as were the barriers as Rees’ crashed at approximately the same spot as Loic Duval in the day’s earlier free practice session.
Duval, happily after he destroyed the #1 Audi, is reported to have only superficial injuries, while Audi promise the car – also driven by Lucas Di Grassi and Tom Kristensen – will return to the track for Thursday’s qualifying sessions, the first of which starts at 6pm UK time (7pm local).
At the start of the session it was Alex Wurz who lifted the #7 Toyota TS040 Hybrid to the top of the times, the team trying to build on their practice pacing performances of the afternoon.
Soon after though Porsche made their move to the top Neel Jani lapping the 13.6km track in the 3:23.928 to take provisional pole for the #14 team only for Hartley to better him aboard the sister #20 machine with a time of 3:23.157 20 minutes into the session. The Kiwi shares driving the car with Timo Bernhard and Mark Webber.
The pair of Toyotas hold the second row over night though the #7 car that set the third fastest time of the session suffered the ignominy of being craned away – with Stephane Sarrazin still in the cockpit – from the Dunlop Chicane after the car fell silent around the Frenchman as he went to start another lap.
The #2 Audi was the best of the two R18 e-tron Quattro that participated in the session, the #13 the better of the Rebellion Racing entries with a best lap of 3:33.117 by Fabio Leimer.
Olivier Pla set the best time of the LMP2 runners, giving the G-Drive Racing Morgan-Nissan team of he, Roman Rusinov and Julien Canal the class pole overnight with Signatech Alpine’s entry second fastest.
In LMGTE Pro the four competing manufacturers each filled one of the top four spots, the #51 AF Corse Ferrari at the top of the class after Gianmaria Bruni’s 3:54.754 moved it ahead of Stefan Mucke’s early marker in the #97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage GTE. Former AMR man Fred Makowiecki took the third fastest time in the #92 Porsche with Antonio Garcia the best of the Corvette Racing stable putting his #73 fourth in class.
Andrea Bertolini took SMP Racing’s Ferrari 458 Italia around the track in 3:56.787 to claim the best time in LMGTE Am. The Italian was the sixth fastest of all the GTE cars in the in the #72 he shares with Russians Viktor Shaitar and Aleksey Basov. The free practice leader of the class, the all-Danish Aston Martin Racing entry was 14th fastest.
The session also hosted the first on track appearance of the Le Mans week by the Nissan ZEOD RC, the 2014 tenant of Garage 56. The car, however, completed only a single lap as Lucas Ordonez took the car out of the pits only to return to their exclusive piece of pit lane real estate on the next pass by.