The lap times from Kazuki Nakajima and Gianmaria Bruni took the grid by storm as they set down unbeatable class lap times in the opening few moments of the first qualifying session. Paul-Loup Chatin continued his competitive form in the #48 Idec Sport LMP2 car, claiming the fastest time in class in just five laps. It was the tale of the Porsches once again in GTE Am as Matteo Cairoli took the fastest time for the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing, leading a Porsche top three lock out.
The fastest lap times set in any of the three qualifying sessions over the next couple of days could secure pole position for any of the teams. With a potential threat of rain for tomorrow evening, this may be the only dry session of qualifying that the teams have. If this is the case, it is very possible that the times that have been set this evening will be the times that dictate the grid on Saturday.
Fast Nakajima Breaks into the 3m17s
Toyota Gazoo Racing came into the session with a mission, and secured a one-two lock out within the first five minutes. Nakajima’s lap time of a 3:17.270 set the Toyotas apart from the rest of the LMP1 privateer cars. The only other car to get close to this was the sister #7 car, who was 0.107 seconds off his fellow countryman’s lap time.
SMP Racing #17 took the title of best of the rest, with a lap time that was 2.1 seconds off the time set by the Toyotas. It is unlikely that any of the privateers will get any closer to this time set by the Japanese team, so the only improvement on this time is expected to come from the manufacturer themselves.
All ten cars managed to set a lap time during the two-hour session, but the CEF TRSM Racing duo were, once again, at the back of the field. With the fastest car unable to go any fastest than a 3m26s lap, they will need to do a lot of work to find the missing pace ahead of tomorrow’s two qualifying sessions that will finalise the grid.
Idec Sport take Provisional Pole in LMP2
It was Chatin’s session to dictate after setting the pace in the opening stages. It seemed to be most of the team’s technique to get their banker laps in early when there was the least amount of traffic on the circuit. This way, at least if there were any red flags or any rain tomorrow they have a strong, competitive lap time already set.
The #28 TDS Racing continues to look strong this weekend, showing it has the pace to be a threat to the front runners during the 24-hours of racing. Matthieu Vaxiviere was first in the TDS and managed to set a lap time that, ultimately, was only two-tenths off the pace of the leading LMP2 car. The duo left the G-Drive Racing #26 1.2 seconds behind them, making themselves key cars to watch as the 24 Hours of Le Mans unfolds.
The Ligier-running United Autosport #22 was the best placed non-ORECA running LMP2 team, taking a 3:26.772 to provisionally hold sixth in class. It still looks like the ORECAs will be the chassis to beat in the race, but the Ligier and Dallara teams are not so far off the pace that they cannot take the fight to the ORECAs.
Bruni’s One Lap Wonder
Bruni managed to pull a magical lap out of no where, throwing the #91 Porsche GT Team to the top of the class timing board with a 3:47.504. No one could get close to the Porsche, with the sister full season FIA World Endurance Championship car only getting within 1.5 seconds of the provisional pole sitter.
The lap after, Bruni made a mistake going into the Dunlop Chicane and spun the car into the gravel. The team retired the car from the session to complete repairs on it, but the 3m47s lap time remained unchallenged for the full two hour session.
Ford Chip Ganassi still have their hand in the game, and if they can find more pace they could challenge Porsche for class pole. Second to fourth in class (Porsche, Ford, Ford) was covered by just half a second, showing that there is still potential to mix up the starting order before the starting grid on Saturday. AF Corse showed a hint at having some more pace to offer, and although they held their cards close to their chest this evening, we hope that they have something more to really mix up the grid for the 24-hour race on the weekend.
Porsche Continue to Command in LM GTE Am
A Porsche one-two-three saw the Dempsey duo provisionally lock out the front row of the GTE Am class. Ben Barker took the original fastest lap of the session, but the Dempsey cars were too fast for him to keep the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche on top of the timing board, with Matt Campbell setting the pace for the #77 in second.
The Ferrari runners look to be Porsche’s closest competitor in class, as was revealed in the free practice session earlier, but they did not seem able to get close to them in qualifying. Hopefully tomorrow the session will be a bit closer, and the 488 GTE drivers can get within the two seconds that they were off the pace of the Porsches today.