The first qualifying session for the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans saw Toyota Gazoo Racing #7, DragonSpeed #31, Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK #67 and Dempsey-Proton Racing #88 take provisional pole in their respective classes, setting the benchmark time to be beaten in tomorrow’s sessions.
There was a dash out of the pit lane at the start of the session, as teams tried to optimise on peak track temperature and conditions to set a banker lap. The Rebellion Racing and SMP Racing Privateers continued to put on a good show, taking second and third respectively in class. It was more impressive to see the #17 SMP in the hands of Egor Orudzhev got within half a second of Kamui Kobayashi‘s lap time.
It was, expectedly, a Toyota on top of the grid at the end of the first qualifying session, with a 3:17.161 being set as a currently unbeatable benchmark for the field. Strangely, however, the sister Toyota struggled to find the pace during this evening’s session. Whether it was due to a mistake in their first lap, and then being caught in traffic or some other reason is unknown at the time of publishing, but the best lap that could be produced by the crew was a 3:19.632 by Fernando Alonso in the dying moments of the session.
Pastor Maldonado is fast becoming one to watch in LMP2, as he claimed provisional pole position for the #31 with a 3:26.804. The class championship leading trio in the #36 Signatech Alpine are keeping the DragonSpeed car honest though, only missing out on going faster than them by just over a tenth of a second. The top three in class is currently rounded out by the #22 United Autosports Ligier, which was four tenths off the battling duo at the front.
A strange moment from Gustavo Menezes saw him crashing the #31 into the LMP1-leading #7 around the halfway point of the session. Recovering from a spin, the Mexican driver appeared to fail to see the Japanese car and drove straight into the side of it, damaging its front nose and the front left wheel arch on the Toyota. Both cars managed to return to the track before the chequered flag.
The Aston Martin Racing #97 looked strong at the top of the Pro class, having led most of the session with Alex Lynn‘s 3:50.037. But last blast improvements from Harry Tincknell and Nick Tandy saw the Jonny Adam/Maixme Martin/Lynn Aston Martin drop down the order. They ended third, whilst it was Tincknell in the #67 that got provisional class honours.
A short slow zone prevented a lot of improvements at the end of the session after the #66 Ford Chip Ganassi spun in the gravel at Maison Blanche and got beached. Olivier Pla was onboard when the car spun off track, unable to save it from making contact with the barrier.
Antonio Garcia had looked like he was the first to break into the 3m49s lap time in his Corvette Racing #63, but as the time was set whilst the slow zone was in place for Pla’s beached car, the fast lap time for the #63 was deleted. They currently sit provisionally 11th in class.
It currently stands as a Dempsey-Proton one-three due to the #88 and #77 being split by the class championship-leading #56 Team Project 1. The #88 led the way with a 3:52.454, holding a 0.2 second advantage over the second-placed Porsche and nine tenths over the sister #77 car.