It was business as usual as competitors got their first taste of Circuit de la Sarthe ahead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with form continuing from where they left off last time out, at the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.
Fernando Alonso and Toyota Gazoo Racing ended both the morning and afternoon sessions fastest for the FIA World Endurance Championship’s official 24 Hours of Le Mans test day.
Rebellion Racing‘s #3 was close to the pace in the morning session with Thomas Laurent setting a time of 3:21.868 to the Spaniard’s 3:21.468; However, Alonso held a six-tenth advantage by the end of the day.
Leading the way for the privateers, Rebellion Racing are Toyota’s closest rivals going into the blue-ribbon event in two weeks time. Their fastest lap time of the day, 3:19.680 was enough to split the two Japanese cars on the time sheets.
The CEFC TRSM Manor Racing cars did not set a representative time in the morning session but were able to get out on circuit in the afternoon session. They ended slowest of the LMP1 runners and appear to have some work to do before the main event in a fortnight’s time.
It has not been confirmed that Manor’s financial issues that led them to pull out of the 6 Hours of Spa-Francochamps have been resolved, but Graeme Lowdon told Sportscar365 that it was “business as usual” and that the team’s commercial situation was more stable now than it was last race. The team are expected to run, with both cars in the main event.
Jenson Button made his debut on the Circuit de la Sarthe during today’s test in the #11 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1. The fastest time in the car was set by Button’s team mate Vitaly Petrov who placed fifth fastest in class in the afternoon session.
G-Drive Racing‘s reserve driver Alexandre Imperatori was the one to watch in the morning session, as he put the #26 fastest in LMP2 with a 3:30.176, this time gave him a seven-tenth advantage over the class.
Nathanael Berthon took the #31 DragonSpeed LMP2 car to the top of the times in the afternoon session, leaving the morning’s fastest G-Drive car to settle for third. The IDEC Sport ORECA in the hands of Paul-Loup Chatin retained its position in second place, looking to be another strong contender for the prestigious race in two week’s time.
There was only one major incident during the scheduled eight-hours of testing, and it came towards the end of the morning session.
Marco Sorensen crashed into the barrier after contact was made with Harrison Newey in the LMP2 SMP Dallara, between Mulsanne and Indianapolis; This brought out one of the four red flags of the day.
Sorensen was taken straight to the circuit medical centre for a precautionary check but has since been released after being given the all-clear from the doctors.
With the morning session ending early, the Ford Chip Ganassi cars locked out the top four positions in LM GTE Pro; Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell led the charge. During the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps Tincknell had been in a great position to take class victory before his high-speed crash through Radillion. The strength of the Fords this year was underlined by the dominant victory that the sister #66 car of Olivier Pla and Stefan Mucke took, and they look in good form ahead of Le Mans.
Last time out at Spa-Francorchamps Porsche proved a force to be reckoned with; They reinstated their position as Ford’s biggest challengers by claiming the fastest lap in the afternoon session. Porsche GT Team, running retro liveries on their #91 and #92 entries, finished with a one-two in the second session, leaving Priaulx to have to settle for third in class as the fastest Ford at the final chequered flag of the day.
While Ford and Porsche locked things out at the front of class, BMW MTEK and Aston Martin Racing tried their best to get into the top six but couldn’t crack the top six. As the Balance of Performance has not yet been set for the 24 hour race, it could be that come the race week the competitive order in the GTE classes looks different to what has been presented today.
Porsche remained as one of the front-runners in LM GTE Am, but the Ferrari entries also showed their pace. Keita Sawa took the honours of fastest in class for the morning session with the Clearwater Racing Ferrari, but it was Dempsey-Proton Racing with a Porsche 911 that took the honours at the end of the day. It was an end of session 3:55.970 from Julien Andlauer that pushed Spirit of Race‘s Giancarlo Fisichella off the top of the timing board as today’s test came to an end.
The Le Mans track action returns on 13 June when the cars return to the 13.626 kilometre circuit for the first free practice session. Toyota are the favourites to take overall victory in the 86th running of the famous 24-hour race, but as the Japanese team know all too well, anything can happen in 24 hours.