The 24 Hours of Le Mans is just under two weeks away, and yesterday’s test day gave us a first look at the competitive order of the grid.
Unsurprisingly, even though the Automobile Club de l’Ouest and FIA promised that the competition would be closer in the LMP1 class for Le Mans, Toyota Gazoo Racing were on top of the field after the two four-hour test sessions. Championship-leading #8 put their car on top in the hands of Sebastien Buemi. The fastest time set by the Swiss driver, a 3:19.440, was only four-tenths slower than the fastest time at last year’s Le Mans test.
Money would have to be on Toyota to take another one-two at the 87th edition of Le Mans as both cars were within 2.7 seconds faster than the quickest Privateer. Only technical issues will stop Toyota from making it a clean sweep of victories on track for the FIA World Endurance Championship Super Season (they took victory on track for the 2018 6 Hours of Silverstone, but were disqualified post race).
We have seen chinks in Toyota’s supposedly indestructible armour, however, as the #7 was hit with a technical issue during the race-of-all-seasons 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps last month. This is the first time Toyota has suffered a technical issue during the Super Season, and you can be assured they will be working harder than ever to make sure it is the only issue they suffer.
If Toyota do suffer more issues that put them laps down on the grid, the Privateer looking best placed to gain a position higher on the podium is Rebellion Racing. The team trialled their new low-downforce aero-kit at Spa last month and were able to set the third fastest time of the test with the #1, in the hands of Andre Lotterer: a 3:21.323. Sadly, as can be seen by comparing the fastest Toyota lap time with Lotterer’s time, there still seems to be a large deficit between the hybrid and non-hybrid LMP1 cars.
The battle for ‘best of the rest’ is assumed to be between Rebellion and SMP Racing as the four cars finished third to sixth and were within a second of each other. With the #8 crew knowing a second-place finish would be enough to take the WEC crown, even if the sister car wins, it is likely the Rebellion/SMP battle will be the most interesting in the LMP1 class.
LMP2 – Jakie Chan DC closing in on Signatech Alpine
The largest class, with 20 LMP2 cars taking to the grid, had its pace set by Ho Pin Tung in the Jackie Chan DC Racing #38 championship contender. They currently sit second behind Signatech Alpine in the LMP2 championship, but with just four points splitting the pair it is all to play for in the final round of the season.
Pastor Maldonado had looked set to end the day fastest in the #31 DragonSpeed, until Tung dropped in a 3:28.504 in the last moments of the afternoon session. He only went faster than the Venezuelan by around two-tenths, which suggests that once again the competition in LMP2 is going to be close for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Nicolas Lapierre was third fastest in the championship-leading #36 Signatech, keeping the title battle looking like it’s going to run to the very last moments of the 24-hour endurance event.
None of the additional LMP2 cars managed to make a dent in the top three, but this is still early days for the class and a lot of the Le Mans rookies can be found in LMP2 cars.
It is likely that a lot of teams were not fully showing their hand during the test, keeping the pressure off the new drivers to the Circuit de la Sarthe. With it being the biggest class and the one with the most rookie drivers, it is liable to assume that incidents may predominately come from this class. It will certainly be an interesting one to watch, nonetheless.
GTE Pro – American’s lead the way
Corvette Racing made their presence known for their twentieth Le Mans appearance, topping the timing board of the GTE Pro class. They led an American top three lock-out, as the two Corvettes were split by the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK car.
In true GTE Pro class style, it is looking close for all the cars, with the top 15 cars in class setting lap times within 1.2 seconds of each other. Only BMW Team MTEK could not match the pace of the others in their class, filling the bottom two positions.
It is likely BoP will be applied to bring BMW closer, but looking at the current pace, it is hoped that not a lot of BoP will be needed to bring the grid together for some wheel-to-wheel action.
GTE Am – Can Ferrari keep their advantage?
GTE Am quickly became a Ferrari show, as the Italian manufacturer locked out the top six positions in class. The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship #62 WeatherTech Racing Ferrari led the way with a 3:56.862, a benchmark that none of the other Ferrari-running teams could beat.
Porsche‘s best running car, the #86 Gulf Racing, was eight-tenths off the pace of the Ferraris. This may lead some to believe Ferrari have it covered in GTE Am, but BoP and sandbagging should be taken into consideration. Our first look at a realistic competitive order will come in the first Free Practice session on the 12 June.
As Mike Rockenfeller said to Dailysportscar.com after the test event: “It’s always good to be the fastest, but today doesn’t count.” With teams running different programs depending on their drivers’ experience around the Circuit de la Sarthe, some teams sandbagging and others encountering issues, the Le Mans Test is not fully representative of what the competitive order could be in a week’s time. However, it does give us some indication of who to keep an eye on.
Stay tuned to TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk for everything you need to know about the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans in the build up to one of the most anticipated endurance events in the world.