In the sole night practice session for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, Rebellion Racing beat out Toyota Gazoo Racing for the fastest overall lap time. As per usual style, AF Corse showed strength in the cooler night conditions that its GTE Pro counterparts.
The third practice session of the 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans was the only session where teams had a chance to experience ‘night’ time running ahead of the 24-hour race. It was also mandatory for every driver on the grid to complete five laps in darkness to qualify for the race on Saturday. Most of the fastest lap times were set in the opening stages of the session, with the latter half dedicated to collecting tyre and stint data from the cars.
For the first time at this event, it was not a Toyota leading the field. Louis Deletraz took that title, going fastest in the #3 Rebellion with a 3:19.158. Kamui Kobayashi tried to keep him honest in the #7 Toyota, but was unable to get any closer than half a second off Deletraz’s time. The top three was rounded off by the #1 Rebellion who beat the #8 Toyota to third on the timing screen by almost a second.
The final LMP1 car, #4 ByKolles Racing Team, lost a lot of the only night session as it brought out the red flag 90 minutes into the session. An odd moment going through Tertre Rouge saw driver of the car at the time Bruno Spengler experience a suspected front nose failure, pitching oddly to the left and into a non-protected barrier. Luckily, it was only front impact, causing the front nose to shatter, but Spengler was OK and able to continue around the lap to limp the car back to the pits.
The car did not return to the track by time the chequered flag came out, with the team also picking up a €15,000 fine for using wielding equipment in the garage.
Albeit the team did not progress to tomorrow’s Hyperpole, Tristan Gommendy led the way in free practice three with the #30 Duqueine Racing, setting a 3:28.013. Job van Uitert was the closest to his time, in the second United Autosports entry, nine tenths off the pace of Gommendy. His teammate from last year, Jean-Eric Vergne, improved the position of the #26 G-Drive Racing in his final stint, going a tenth slower than van Uitert for third.
Unlike the earlier sessions of the day, the LMP2 class remained fairly incident free for the four-hour night shift. IDEC Sport were unable to bring either of their cars out of the pits due to the severe damage they had both suffered in the daytime session, leading some concern about whether they would be allowed to race on Saturday if they could repair the cars in time.
The Automobile Club de l’Ouest and FIA agreed to waver the rules about drivers having to have set a certain number of laps pending on their experience at the circuit so that the two cars will still be able to take to Saturday’s grid. However, their entry is subject to both cars starting from the pit lane, a lap down on the whole field to compensate for the force major measures that required the rules to be wavered.
Porsche GT Team returned as the team to beat in GTE Pro, with Kevin Estre setting the pace of the class. His 3:52.177 in the #92 Porsche was three tenths up on second-placed #97 Aston Martin Racing. Maxime Martin, who set the fast time of the #97, was pushing to beat Estre in the closing stages of the session, setting a string of fast times before a late red flag ended the practice early. But Aston Martin are still looking like a favourite, with the sister #95 sitting third.
Ferrari showed a strong pace in the hours of darkness, with their highest placed car, #51 AF Corse in the hands of James Calado, fourth in class. Usually at Le Mans the Ferraris come to life at night, having a better handle of the track with the slightly cooler track temperatures. Over 12 hours of Saturday’s race is predicted to be in darkness, so this could be something that falls into the Ferrari-runner’s favour.
Showing again the Ferrari’s strengths at night time, Kei Cozzolino became the first Ferrari runner to end a session fastest in GTE Am. The #70 MR Racing went fastest in the final hour with a 3:54.490 set by Cozzolino. Prior to that, the session had been led by Paolo Ruberti in the #60 Iron Lynx Ferrari, but he was prevented from making it a Ferrari one-two in Am by #98 Aston Martin Racing’s Augustos Farfus. Farfus’ 3:54.590 was three tenths faster than the time set by Ruberti.
A total of one hour was lost to red flags during the should have been four-hour session. The first for the #4 ByKolles took 45 minutes to clear and repair the track, whilst the session was ended 15 minutes early thanks to a big accident for Bonamy Grimes in the Red River Racing Ferrari. Grimes lost control of the car racing down the Mulsanne straight, spinning at the first chicane and hitting the barriers. He climbed out of the car quickly, uninjured, but there was too much repair work to be done to get the session back underway.
Even though there were only two red flag, there were a lot of yellows, slow zones and full course yellows in this session. With the prediction of mixed conditions over the weekend, anything could happen in the 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans.