Porsche continued their test day pace as the first day of practice and qualifying got under way at the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley topped the practice times while the #8 Audi R18 e-Tron Quattro finished second, the #18 car of Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb come home third followed by the #19 of F1 driver Nico Hülkenberg, Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy.
Qualifying would see changeable weather conditions but this wouldn’t be an issue for the trio of 919 Hybrid’s as they locked out the top three positions with the #18 finishing ahead of #17 and #18. The top two cars beat the previous qualifying record set by Peugeot in 2008. Despite lost time in the qualifying session due to a red flag, all nine Porsche LMP1 drivers completed their five mandatory laps.
Lieb was quietly confident during the qualifying admitting “When I saw the lap times that we set in the beginning of the session, I was quite sure that we had good chances to set the best time. I thought nobody is going to reach our times.
“All in all, the car felt very good. Only the balance is not yet how we want it to be, but I am sure we will get that sorted before the race.”
Dumas added “For sure we are competitive. The car is fast and good fun to drive. At night it is always tricky with the slower cars on the track, and you have to get used to it again.”
Jani believes there is more pace in the Porsche despite setting the fastest time of the day, ” because it wasn’t entirely clear. That it was still the fastest lap of the day and a qualifying record is very pleasing. But I know this wasn’t the maximum, and we have to wait to see what happens in the other qualifying sessions.”
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President of Porsche LMP1 paid tribute to the team effort on the opening day “You’ve got to have a great deal of respect for the drivers if you look at these lap times. Today was a great team effort and a nice first step into Le Mans 2015, but it isn’t anything more than this yet. The entire team has to cope with huge expectations and managed that. I especially want to thank them for that. Tomorrow we will see how the track conditions develop.”
Traffic on circuit claimed the best of Bernhard’s laps as he faced difficulties through the Porsche Curves.“I did a real qualifying lap right when the session started and it was good fun. At the entrance of the Porsche Curves I came across a LMP2 car, but everywhere else it was clear. A lap in three minutes 17 is really fast in Le Mans, and the time sheets look great for us. However, we don’t want to lose focus and must keep preparing for race day, which is when it counts.”
New Zealander Hartley added “One-two-three is just fantastic for us today. We have had some good runs in daylight and at night and, most importantly, we know now we are quick and can keep focussing on race preparation.”
Webber is also sure there is more pace to come from the car saying that they weren’t pushing too much during the session. “Here in Le Mans it is not so important to start from pole position. We focused on the race, because that’s what matters.” he added.
Force India F1 driver Hülkenberg had his first taste of Le Mans qualifying, “When testing I enjoyed night driving a lot, but here in Le Mans this is even more special. This atmosphere here gives you goose bumps. Facing the traffic I know well that experience means a lot here to find the last tenths. But I’m quite happy and my enjoyable anticipation for the race is increasing.”
British sportscar ace Tandy was happy with the progress the team has made. “Between free practice and qualifying we made a huge step forward, but we have not made use of our full potential yet. We set our fastest lap time in the third lap of the stint when the tyres were not working perfectly anymore. Unfortunately I was stuck in traffic in the two laps before that. Therefore, we should be able to improve on our time if it doesn’t rain tomorrow.”