Sunday marked the start of track time for the official Le Mans tests. When the session began at 09:00, most teams sent their cars out straightaway to beat the predicted bad weather and to make the most of the allotted time to test their settings and collect data for their technicians and engineers.
It only took a few minutes to “rubber in” the track and render the traction optimum and drivers began setting respectable times right from the start. At 09:15 Audi’s Marcel Fässler set a sub 03:30 lap, which was subsequently beaten by both Romain Dumas and Mark Webber for Porsche, who ended the morning session on 03:22.555.
In the end Brazilian Lucas di Grassi clocked the fastest lap in the #8 Audi, on 03:21.375. That is not as quick as Neel Jani’s pole position time of 03:16.887 but it has to be said that last year times improved by four seconds between the Test Day and the qualifying sessions.
Performance aside, the key information to note at the end of the Test Day is that the three favourites are neck and neck. The Toyota TS050’s were by no means dazzling, but the fastest is only two seconds behind di Grassi’s best lap. As far as reliability is concerned the #7 Audi seems to have suffered from a damper problem for several minutes. At the end of the day, it’s difficult to say who of Audi, Porsche and Toyota has the upper hand.
If it is shaping up to be anyone’s race for the overall win, what about LMP2 where every one of the 23 entrants has a chance of taking the class title?
Oreca came out on top of the day’s proceedings with Tristan Gommendy’s time of 3:37.397 in the Eurasia entry. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Michael Shank Racing ended the day with its Ligier-Nissan going off at the Michelin chicane with Oswaldo Negri Jr at the wheel. The accident brought the Test Day to a premature end as the safety barrier could not be repaired within the 30 minutes that remained.
In GTE Pro, all eyes were on the armada of four Fords making their big comeback to Le Mans, but Antonio Garcia in a Corvette (3:55.122) stole the limelight from their American compatriates.
Finally, in GTE Am, Corvette again topped the table with Larbre Compétition’s C7-Z06 finishing the day at the top of the standings with trial driver Nick Catsburg clocking in a 3m 57.999s lap. The French team also used Test Day to put two drivers, Jean-Philippe Belloc and the afore mentioned Catsburg, through their paces.
“I am so thankful to Jack Leconte and Larbre Competition for the opportunity to drive the team’s Chevrolet Corvette C7.R and experience the Le Mans circuit for the first time,” said Catsburg. “To be quickest in class is fantastic and, to be honest, I wasn’t really pushing.
“Of course, I would love to be with the team for the 24 Heures du Mans itself, as they’re a great group of guys and I really enjoyed working with them, but I understand that this may not be possible on this occasion. If not, I hope to get another chance to complete the team again in the future.”
Despite setting the fastest GTE Am time it is unlikely Catsburg will get the seat with Belloc rumoured to be the favourite to stand in for Paolo Ruberti, who fractured his spine in a recent accident at Hockenheim.
The full test day results can be downloaded here.