On their return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the top class for the first time since the 911 GT1, Porsche Motorsport have claimed a front row start for the big race. The Porsche 919 Hybrid’s Le Sarthe debut netted second and fourth on the grid for the third round of the FIA World Endurance Championship, behind the Toyotas but eclipsing the reigning champions and fellow Volkswagen Audi Group brand Audi.
The fight for pole was tough, with constant traffic and regular interruptions. A slow zone late in qualifying put an end to any attempts to topple the #7 Toyota TS040 Hybrid in a shootout for the top spot.
Romain Dumas set the fastest time for any Porsche round the 13km Circuit de La Sarthe, a 3m22.146 second lap in the final session of qualifying. He shares the #14 919 Hybrid with Neel Jani and Marc Lieb. For the #20 car the interruptions in second qualifying didn’t manage to slow them down any, Timo Bernhard set his 3m22.908 in the broad daylight of the afternoon outing. Timo shares the #20 with Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber.
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President of LMP1 at Porsche AG, was delighted with the result. He said, “I think it’s amazing that we really made it to the front and second rows at Le Mans. This is more than we could expect. We did very well in qualifying.”
Andreas Seidl the team principal added, “To me these grid positions are sensational and a great reward for two tough years. For the outside world it might be difficult to imagine how challenging it really was to build up everything from scratch, and we even managed these tricky qualifying situations here in Le Mans with all the interruptions pretty well.”
The fastest man in a Porsche at Le Mans this year, Romain Dumas added, “I had a great run. We improved the car all the time. We still had to fight a bit of understeer, but I’m happy. Unfortunately, on my best lap I had to overtake another car, which I think cost a few tenths of a second, but it was fun to drive and I enjoyed it.“
The qualifying driver for the #20 Timo Bernhard didn’t have as clear a run. “It was a shame I did not find one single clear lap,” he said. “In the beginning of the third qualifying session I had to deal with slower cars everywhere. It’s a pity, because without that we clearly could have been able to improve our lap times. Nevertheless, it was a good fight out there. The car feels fine. From now on, we have to concentrate on the race. We will get into a different rhythm, and I’m looking forward to that. There have already been a lot of accidents this year, so causing many interruptions – which is a bit alarming.“
Mark Webber, who returns to Le Sarthe for the first time since 1999, didn’t get the milage he was hoping for. “I did just two timed laps, so it was very quiet for me. We got the car ready for Timo and I had a pretty good feeling for it. The track was a bit green when I was at the wheel and the temperature was a little bit higher compared to last night. However, I’m absolutely ready to race now.“