Track action for this year’s 86th 24 Hours of Le Mans started on Sunday with the traditional test day. As expected Toyota set the fastest times of the day, but Rebellion managed to get a car in between both Toyota’s in both the morning and afternoon sessions.
Fernando Alonso set the pace in both outings in his #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid. Oreca still have a significant lead in the LMP2 class, while Ford and Porsche each were fastest in the GTE-Pro class.
Several teams still have their homework to do before practice and qualifying starts in less than two weeks. In LMP1, both Ginetta’s have finally driven their first official laps, but seem to be way off the pace.
The Oreca’s still dominate the LMP2 class, despite the joker updates for Ligier and Dallara. Aston Martin had what you could call a ‘horrible Sunday’; losing the #95 car in a big crash and both of the new Vantage AMRs seemingly off the pace of all other runners in the LM GTE-Pro class.
As expected, Toyota had the fastest time in the morning session with a 3.21.468, set by Fernando Alonso in the #7 TS050 Hybrid. Thomas Laurent spoiled Toyota’s party somewhat by putting his #3 Rebellion R13 in between the #7 and #8 Toyotas though. His lap of 3.21.828 was 0.360 seconds off Alonso and 0.328 seconds faster than the second Toyota.
The #1 Rebellion managed the 4th fastest time lapping in 3.23.595. Both of SMP Racing’s BR Engineering BR1’s followed in fifth and sixth, but just under 4 and over 5 seconds behind the fastest Toyota. The ageing but much updated #4 ByKolles ENSO CLM was almost seven seconds behind the leading Toyota, despite going faster than their qualifying time from 2017.
Both the Ginetta G60-LT-P1’s made it out on track for the morning session, the #5 however only managing an out-lap; the #6 only did 9 laps in total, with a best time of 3.34.766, over 13 seconds off the LMP1 pace putting it in the middle of the LMP2 contenders. The #10 Gibson powered Dragonspeed BR1 did come out for a few installation laps but didn’t set a lap time.
In the LMP2 class, Oreca dominated the morning session, despite the joker upgrades afforded to Ligier and Dallara. Alexandre Imperatori in the #26 G-Drive Oreca set the best time of the session in 3.30.176. Paul Loup Chatin in the #48 IDEC Sport Oreca was second fastest, 0.701 seconds behind. For the first time this season, the #31 Dragonspeed wasn’t on top of the timetable now settling for third place.
The fastest of the non-Oreca’s were both United Autosports Ligiers; the #32 a fraction of a second faster than the #22. The #47 Cetilar Villorba Corse was the quickest of the Dallara’s. Jan Lammers in the #29 Racing Team Nederland Dallara must have had a few scary moments when he stopped at the second chicane with smoke coming out of the cockpit. A short stop and some help of the marshals with a fire extinguisher later, Lammers got off again onwards to his 24th Le Mans.
Ford set the pace in the GTE-Pro class, claiming all four top positions. Andy Priaulx was the fastest driver in the class with a 3.53.008 in the #67 Ford GT. Priaulx was almost a second faster than the #66 sister car, followed by both American entries, the #69 and #68. Best of the non-Ford runners was Porsche with the #91 (”Rothmans”) tribute liveried 911 RSR, 1.7 seconds slower than the fastest Ford. The fastest of the visiting, non-WEC Corvettes was the #63 which ended the session in sixth spot.
The first session of the test day was a tough one for several GTE Am runners. Jorg Bergmeister had an off in the #56 Project 1 Porsche and didn’t set at time over the shortened session while Mathias Lauda damaged his engine in the #98 Aston Martin Vantage on a curb following an altercation with an LMP2 prototype, leaving the previous model Vantage with an oil leak.
Keita Sawa in the shiny #61 Clearwater Ferrari was quickest overall in 3.58.569, with Julian Andlauer snapping at his heels in the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche; the young Frenchman only 0.006 seconds short from the Ferrari. The #88 Dempsey-Proton set the third time, followed by the #86 Gulf Racing UK Porsche and the #90 TF Sport Aston Vantage.
The morning session was red flagged almost an hour early after contact between Harrison Newey in the #35 SMP Racing Dallara and Marco Sorensen in the #95 Aston Martin. Both cars made contact near Indianapolis, with Sorensen going hard into the guardrails. Newey managed to bring his Dallara back into pitlane, but the Aston Martin appeared to be a complete write-off with the team subsequently stating the damage to the #95 was too heavy to repair and they will be forced to use their spare chassis for the race in two weeks time. Sorensen was examined in the medical center and released without any injuries.
To recover some of the lost time from the morning session, the second session of the day started half an hour early. This session ran uninterrupted apart from a few local yellows and safety cars to recover stranded cars from the track, luckily all without any severe damage. In the dying moments of the session though it was red flagged again when Pastor Maldonado had an off at Indianapolis.
Unsurprisingly, Toyota (and Alonso) held on to the top spot of the time sheets, but the Rebellions kept in the mix even when lap times dropped significantly over the afternoon session. Kobayashi – who set the all time lap record during qualifying last year – seemed to have set the fastest time of the day in the #7 Toyota, but Alonso still managed to find ‘another little something’ to go faster. The Spaniard improved his best time of the morning session by almost 2.5 seconds, down to 3.19.066.
Mathias Beche in the #3 Rebellion basically did the same and parked his Gibson powered R13 back in between both Toyota’s, now 0.614 seconds slower than Alonso. Kobayashi’s time of 3.20.008 put the second Toyota on third place. The running order behind the top 4 remained the same, with both SMP Racing BR1’s in fifth and sixth, followed by the #4 ByKolles. The newly built Dragonspeed BR1 now also turned its first laps around La Sarthe, 3.26.951 being its fastest one.
Both Ginetta’s ran a significant amount of laps in the afternoon, going round in high 3.27’s and low 3.28’s, still around 9 seconds behind Toyota but already in between the top times of the LMP2 class.
Nathanaël Berthon took command of the LMP2 class in the #31 Dragonspeed Oreca, shaving just under three seconds off Imperator’s best time from the morning session. His 3.27.228 was just fast enough to hold off Paul Loop Chatin, who ended the session stranded in second place again with the #48 IDEC Sport, 24 thousands of a second slower. The #26 G-Drive now set the third fastest time of the class.
United Autosports again set the fastest time of the non-Oreca’s in the #22 Ligier of Filipe Albuquerque, although still 2 seconds off the pace of the quickest Oreca. Felipe Nasr in the #47 Cetilar Villorba Corse was the fastest Dallara again, ending the day in seventh place.
Porsche had taken over the lead in GTE Pro by the end of the second session of the day, claiming the top 2 spots with the 911 RSR. Patrick Pilet ended up quickest in class with a 3.52.551 which was 2.4 seconds faster than the quickest Porsche at last year’s test-day. Gimmi Bruni in the #91 “Rothmans” set the second time of the day, just 0.096 behind Bruni.
Behind both Porsches all four Fords improved their times from the morning session, but couldn’t match the performance of the leading Porsches although all finishing within a second from Pilet. The #91 “Pink Pig” Porsche followed in 7th position ahead of the #81 BMW M8. Ninth place was for the first Ferrari (#71 AF Corse), followed by both of the IMSA Corvettes; the #64 of Tommy Millner had an issue about half way the session when he parked the car right after the Dunlop bridge. Aston Martin ended a bad day with the #97 setting a best time of 3.57.488, just under 5 seconds slower than the #94 Porsche.
Julian Andlauer in the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche didn’t miss his debut in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, setting the best time in the LM GTE-Am class. His lap time of 3.55.970 was 0.299 faster than Giancarlo Fisichella in the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari F488 GTE. Keita Sawa who was fast all day long in the Clearwater Ferrari was third fastest by the end of the day.
The first non-WEC car in the Am class was the all American #99 Proton Porsche in Black Swan colours of Patrick Long in 3.57.515, good for fifth place. The #85 Keating Motorsports Ferrari followed close in sixth. Last year’s class winners JMW Motorsports, wearing the black and white livery of WeatherTech for the Le Mans race, finished seventh fastest.
Ebimotors also had a day to forget quickly, only managing 25 laps over the whole day after running into engine and gearbox problems. Christina Nielsen, who was one of the drivers that flew overnight from Detroit, only managed an out-lap in the #80 Porsche.
Text: Kristof Vermeulen/John Stevens