The first track session of the 86th 24 Hours of Le Mans was fraught with yellow flags and slow zones as the drivers pushed the limits of the track and their cars to try and pull out a competitive edge on the field ahead of the first qualifying sessions this morning. It was Toyota Gazoo Racing who ended the session fastest, albeit not in the dominant fashion that was expected from them.
However, the expected frontrunners emerged from the other three classes, keeping the competitive order very similar to what was shown at the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. ORECA-running LMP2 teams look to have the edge on the other chassis, but between the teams running that chassis the competition looks close. In the GTE classes, it looks to be a fight between Porsche and Ford for the top spot, with Ferrari potentially able to get involved but BMW and Aston Martin looking to be off the pace.
Toyota Lead the LMP1 Field
Toyota finished the session with the #7 car fastest, a 3:18.718 set by Kamui Kobayashi, this was the only time of the session to get into the 3m 18s. The sister car finished second in the final order, 0.557 seconds behind, with Rebellion Racing #3 rounding off the top three. Thomas Laurent finished just two tenths off Sebastien Buemi‘s time as the chequered flag fell.
SMP Racing and DragonSpeed were the biggest surprises of the session, managing to set lap times that were not predicted, following their performances at Spa Francorchamps and the Le Mans test day.
Although the Toyota’s still remain the favourites, an unpredictable LMP1 field could lead to a brilliant battle for ‘best of the rest’ or who will inherit the overall win should anything happen to the Toyotas.
Collectively, the two CEFC TRSM Racing Ginetta’s set 19 laps around the Circuit de la Sarthe during the four hour session. The best time was set by Michael Simpson in the #5, with a 3:25.203 set in the final hour of the session. It was not a good start to the week for the team, having to change the engine in the sister #6 car halfway through the session.
Close for the ORECA-Runners
The ORECA chassis are beginning to emerge, once again, as the most competitive in the LMP2 field, giving an advantage to any teams using it. Jean-Eric Vergne continued with the form that G-Drive Racing showed at Spa Francorchamps by setting the fastest lap of the LMP2 field with a 3:26.529. Most of the session had been dominated by IDEC Sport, but a late session improvement from the Frenchman saw him claim top spot in the session.
Few improvements were seen in the lap times of the LMP2 cars, with the IDEC time set by Paul-Loup Chatin in the opening moments of the session standing up throughout. This meant that the majority of the LMP2 order remained the same, with no one wanting to show their hand just yet. The real competition will start to rise in this evening’s first qualifying session.
A Porsche-Ford Fight on the Cards
As was the case in the opening round of the FIA World Endurance Championship and the Le Mans test day held a few weeks ago, Porsche GT Team and Ford Chip Ganassi are the favourites for this year’s Le Mans. They continued to lead the way in today’s practice session, consistently trading fastest lap times. The quartet of cars from each manufacturer remained a consistent pace with each other, with the smallest gap between them.
Porsche reigned victorious this time, locking out the top three with the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Porsche #93 driven by Le Mans winners Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Patrick Pilet leading the way.
AF Corse Ferrari were the only other manufacturer to challenge, placing fifth in class at the chequered flag.
The BoP was announced for this weekend, showing that Aston Martin Racing have been given a power boost, whilst BMW Team MTEK and Corvette Racing have had additional weight added to their cars.
The Fords gain an extra advantage, with weight being taken off their cars. BMW, Ferrari and Aston Martin gain a small power boost.
Ferrari take the Fight to Porsche in GTE Am
There was always a Porsche holding the fastest time of the Am class. Ben Barker held the fastest time of a 3:53.834 in the Gulf Racing #86 until halfway through the session when Matteo Cairoli went fastest by nine-tenths of a second. His lap time kept the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing on top of the time sheets to the chequered flag.
The TF Sport Aston Martin had looked to be in a competitive position at the beginning of the session, but as the sun began to set it started to fall down the class order. It ended sixth in class, just ahead of the #98 Aston Martin Racing car. Aston Martin do look to be having a tough week as, even with a BoP boost, it has not brought them close enough to the other challengers in the field.
Ferrari remain as Porsche’s closest competitors as Giancarlo Fisichella made a last minute dash to take the third fastest time of the session. His 3:53.976 put him just over a tenth slower than second-placed Barker.