Kazuki Nakajima confirmed his position as the King of Qualifying with an improved time of 3:15.377 on just his second lap of the final qualifying session Thursday evening securing pole, and unchallenged by the sister #7 Toyota TS050 in second place exactly 2-seconds slower. Worryingly the time, slightly slower that the previous year came with ease, and the ominous gap back to the remainder of the LMP1 field is a fraction over 4-seconds led by the #1 Rebellion Racing R13-Gibson.
The battle of the non-hybrids is intense, with the two Rebellion R13s separated by less than 0.5sec and the first of the SMP Racing BR1-AERs #17 bearing on the time set by Stéphane Sarrazin on Wednesday evening. So there is not only a battle between teams at this level but also power unit. The Gibson technology powered BR1 of Dragonspeed #10 took sixth place giving Gibson Tech three of the top six places with the development of the LMP2 power unit, surely a good sign of solidity and longevity for the 24-hours.
SMP Racing’s BR1 was seventh fastest with Egor Orudhzev at the wheel, in front of the #11 SMP Racing BR1 and the #4 ByKolles Enso CLMP1/01. The ByKolles clocked off a 3.22.505 but lost all of its fastest laps due to “exceeded instantaneous fuel flow limit”, as did the #17 SMP Racing. The Toyota #8 also saw several laptimes deleted; exceeding the fuel/lap quantity limit.
An impressive ninth from the first of the Ginetta’s the #6 improving their time to a 3:23.757 in the final session whilst the #5 lies in the mix with the first of the LMP2 runners in 14th place. Electrical gremlins halted Ginetta’s progress during both of wednesday’s sessions, and forced the team to an engine swap between sessions in the #6 car. A finish will seem a victory for either car after a challenging trip to Le Mans, we wish them well.
In LMP2 it’s the #48 IDEC Sport of Paul Loup Chatin which was quickest overall in an improved record setting laptime of 3.24.842, more than half a second faster than last year’s pole time. Chatin was just 4-hundreths quicker than the #31 Dragonspeed with the #26 G-Drive a further 3-tenths behind. A word for the Cetilar Villorba Corse #47 crew who suffered a left front tyre failure that pitched Giorgio Sernagiotto into the barriers approaching the first chicane on Hunaudiares. The car briefly took flight careered across the track into the barrier on driver’s left and down the escape road prior to the chicane. Giorgio stepped from the car, shaken but unhurt a testament to the strength of the Dallara P217, but the crew will be burning the midnight oil to make the grid.
“Best of the rest” non-Oreca 07s is now the #23 Ligier JSP217 of Panis Barthez Competition in fifth in category with a best time set in the final session of 3:25.376 some half-a-second off the Oreca set pole time.
After leaving LMP1 at the end of last season, Porsche is now aiming for success in the GTE Pro class in the second season of their not-to-be-called mid engined 911 RSR. In both of yesterday’s sessions, the Porsches were on top of the timetables. Gimmi Bruni outpaced everyone in the qualifying session with a staggering lap record of 3.47.504, over three seconds faster than last year’s pole time. Even more impressive was that he set that time at the start of the session in only one of two flying laps before parking his #91 Porsche in the kitty litter at Dunlop curve.
Michael Christensen was second quickest in the #92 Porsche in 3.49.097, still faster than las year’s pole time but over half a second adrift from Bruni’s lap. Ford took third and fourth place with Olivier Pla quickest in the #66 GT (3.49.181) followed by Dirk Müller in the #68. Alessandro Pier Guidi in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari set the fifth time, almost 2.5 seconds slower than the #91 Porsche.
BMW returns to Le Mans in their new M8, and clocked off on ninth and 11th position inbetween Ferrari and Ford. Antonio Felix Da Costa was the fastest BMW driver with a time of 3.50.579. Corvette is – as usual – steadily going through their pre Le Mans test programme, finishing 13th and 14th by the end of the qualifying session. Despite the new BoP, the Astons still are struggling for pace, both new Vantage AMR’s finishing dead last yesterday, just under 5 and over 7 seconds off the pace.
Dempsey-Proton Racing is leading the GTE Am class with both of its Porsche 911 RSR’s. Matteo Cairoli showing his outright speed again, going round in 3.50.728 in the #88 which was even quicker than the Corvettes in GTE Pro. Matt Campbell in the #77 Porsche was just over 1.2 seconds slower than the young Italian to take a provisional second sport on the grid. The top 3 was completed by another Porsche: the #86 Gulf Racing of Ben Barker.
Giancarlo Fisichella in the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari was the first non Porsche driver on the list in fourth place, 2 seconds slower than Cairoli. The #56 Team Project 1 Porsche and the #85 Keating Motorsports Ferrari completed the top 7 with the #98 Aston Martin of Pedro Lamy in eight position. Bad luck for the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin of Salih Yoluc & co who suffered a puncture causing some damage to the car, limiting their track time in the first qualifying session.
Words: Nick Holland & Kristof Vermeulen. Photos: Kristof Vermeulen/Jellybaby.Media