In this evening’s qualifying session, Toyota Gazoo Racing continued to dominate the LMP1 field, whilst Aston Martin Racing rose back to the top in GTE. However, due to the new qualifying format, it is not yet know who will take the four class pole positions.
For the 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans, a new qualifying format was introduced. Rather than the usual three qualifying sessions, with the team’s fastest lap from all three sessions taken to determine the starting grid, the new Hyperpole system saw all the drivers taking to the grid for one 45-minute qualifying session. The top six in each class have progressed to Hyperpole that will be held tomorrow, to establish the top six positions in each class.
In LMP1, with the class size being five cars, this was a slightly pointless exercise as all cars were guaranteed to progress to Hyperpole. Toyota continued their dominance of the field, clearing the challenging cars by 4.5 seconds at the chequered flag. Kamui Kobayashi put the #7 FIA World Endurance Championship-leading car on top of the session with a 3:17.089, a tenth clear of the sister car. At Rebellion Racing, the best lap time they could lock in was a 3:21.598 with the #1 in the hands of Bruno Senna.
It was another strong showing for Aston Martin, with half a tenth splitting their two cars at the end of the session. Marco Sorensen led Alex Lynn over the line with a 3:50.872. The top four, with third and fourth being secured by the two Porsche GT Team cars, never seemed under any threat to make it through to Hyperpole, but the quartet of Ferraris had a fight on their hands.
With around ten minutes left on the clock, it looked like one if not both of the full season WEC AF Corse cars might be in trouble, as the American Privateers were giving it their best shot to progress through. A second down on the leading Aston Martin pair, both WEC Ferraris just about made it into Hyperpole, with Alessandro Pier Guidi in the #51 ahead of Davide Rigon.
Aston Martin’s dominance may open them up to a late Balance of Performance change. Although the more condensed schedule sees not a lot of time between qualifying and the race start, if changes feel like they need to be made then there is time to make them.
LMP2 saw a great fight for Hyperpole as the top six were not finalised until the chequered flag dropped. Nyck de Vries set what appeared to be an unassailable benchmark of 3:26.648 with the #29 Racing Team Nederland in the early moments of the session, beating out Will Stevens in the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing who had been the original pace setter. Although a lot of drivers tried, no one seemed to be able to get close to de Vries’ time.
Jean-Eric Vergne had looked like he was going to try and get through the session with just one flying lap in the #26 G-Drive Racing. His first lap of 3:27.366 placed him fourth in class, but as qualifying drew to a close Vergne had his sights set on de Vries’ time. An astounding lap saw him set a 3:26.547, under a tenth up on de Vries time and briefly put the Frenchman on top of the timing sheet. However, an infringement of track limits saw the lap time deleted, and Vergne took the #26 G-Drive through to Hyperpole from fourth place in class using his original lap time.
Vergne was not the only driver to have lap times deleted due to track limits infringements. Alex Brundle had jumped Vergne on the timing screen, only to be dropped back out of the top six due to exceeding the limits of the track. However, Brundle was able to put together another lap, not faster than Vergne, but enough to make it two United Autosports in tomorrow’s Hyperpole.
De Vries, Vergne, Brundle and Stevens will be joined in Hyperpole by Paul di Resta in the #22 United Autosports entry and Kenta Yamashita in the #33 High Class Racing. Yamashita has been showing great pace throughout the day at the Circuit de la Sarthe, making him definitely one to watch in Saturday’s 24-hour race.
Continuing the surge of the Aston Martins, the works Am #98 car led the way. Augustos Farfus set the Am pace, leading a British manufacturer one-two with the #90 TF Sport in second. Ben Barker was the first non-Aston Martin to progress to Hyperpole in the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche entry. He was followed by the #61 Luzich Racing Ferrari, #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing and #89 Team Project 1 to complete the Hyperpole line ups.
A half hour session will run tomorrow afternoon where all 23 of the above cars will take to the track and fight for class pole position. The drivers who did not progress to Hyperpole will start the race on Saturday in the order they finished today’s qualifying session.