With the FIA World Endurance Championship taking the decision not to change the LMP2 class speed after they dominated the Prologue, it came as no surprise that the LMP2 cars were at the top of the overall timing board at the end of the first practice session.
Filipe Alberquerque kept up United Autosport‘s run of fastest times, leading the way with a 2:04.083. This lap time was a couple of tenths faster than the lap times he set in the car during the Prologue earlier this week. To add insult to injury for the sole Hypercar-running team Toyota Gazoo Racing, the grandfather LMP1 entry from Alpine sat second on the timing board, only three tenths off the pace, which was a huge improvement from the times they were setting at the beginning of this week. The top three was closed off by Norman Nato in the TDS Racing-run RealTeam ORECA, with the three cars split by four tenths of a second at the chequered flag.
It was a tight battle at the top of the timing board, with the top 11 cars lapping within a second of each other. Stoffel Vandoorne, Sean Gelal and Tom Blomqvist put in a great showing for their JOTA car to end fourth on the timing board, having a much better first practice session than the sister car. The #38 of Anthony Davidson, Antonio Felix da Costa and Roberto Gonzalez had a clean session, but struggled to find pace, setting a 2:06.948, nearly three seconds off the pace of the leading car.
It was a heavy fall from grace for Toyota, however, who could not get higher than seventh (for the #7 entry) and tenth (the #8) by the end of the session. Both cars did finish within a second of the leader, but there is a lot of work to do to bring then back to the front and their former glory fighting for overall wins. If this pace continues, the team is likely to be beaten by the LMP1 entry of Alpine as well, making a bit of a mockery of the new Hypercars.
Dominance in GTE Pro fell to Porsche GT Team, claiming a strong one-two to start the race weekend. Once again it was Kevin Estre behind the wheel of the #92 that secured the top spot with a 2:13.466. This was the fastest racing lap time set by the car since the start of the season – including the Prologue – only beaten out by the Tuesday morning qualifying simulation where the team went half a second quicker.
Fractions were in it, however, with Richard Lietz finishing the session 0.034s off of Estre’s time and Alessandro Pier Guidi 0.054s off in the third-placed AF Corse. The second AF Corse of Miguel Molina and Daniel Serra finished off the top four, but the final Ferrari was a further two tenths off, not quite in the fight with the other three cars. The sole Corvette Racing entry had a tough time against the full-season Pro cars, finishing behind the fastest two Am cars nearly a second off the pace.
Matteo Cairoli led the way in GTE Am with the Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR-19, finishing the session with a 2:13.941 which was just under half a second off the leading Pro car. The duo of Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche’s finished up the top three of the Am class with all three covered by just over three seconds.