After a delayed start to the first qualifying session due to barrier repairs between Arnage and the entry to Porsche Curves, it is good to be able to confirm that it would appear we have a motor race on our hands! In numeric order the three Toyota TS050 Hybrids were split by the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid; the #7 of Kamui Kobayashi setting a provisional pole time of 3:18.793. The sister #8 car currently joins it on the front row, 3-tenths faster than the faster Porsche #2. Given the oppressive conditions, even at 22:00 local, it should not be surprising that the time is a full second slower that the Test Day time set by the #7 Toyota.
We will need to analyse the long distance stints to gain further insight into the likely implications for the race, but initial thoughts are that if you can go faster, when you ease up everything takes less of a pounding and the likelihood of success over the 24-hours improves.
It was also good to see the #4 ByKolles ENSO CLM – Nismo go faster than the LMP2 category pack in overall 6th place behind the factory-hybrids. We caught up with Dominik Kraihamer and Marco Bonanomi between session, both were a tad crest-fallen after the engine failure in the Practice session and suggested they would hold back on the new install to protect it for the race; a 3:28.887 is a fair result. The car is also fastest through the speed trap at 340.2kmh whilst others have wound on downforce and have marginally slowed as a consequence. A quick word for Porsche though who may have gone the other way and found greater straight line speed to ease passing, driver traffic worries. LMP1-H are now clocking 334.9kmh which is faster than the vast majority of the LMP2 field.
In LMP2 it is a battle at the front between TDS Racing #28 and the seeming lead Vaillante Rebellion #31 category pole currently with the #28 with a 3:29.333 by 5-tenths from #31 of Prost/Canal/Senna (had to get the line-up in!). A little slower in the 3:30s, but good to see a resurgent CEFC Manor TRS Racing pair, pursue by the might of #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca run by Jota Sport. Indeed the Oreca 07 continues to prove its point as the class of the category taking the top 12 places. The fastest non-Oreca is the Racing Team Nederland Dallara #29 of Lammers/Van Eerd/Barrichello with a best of 3:33.796.
Two casualties of the qualifying session came to grief at Mulsanne Corner firstly the #39 Graff Racing car in the hands of Eric Trouillet slid very wide on the exit crossing the gravel and finding the tyre protected wall to lean on. This was craned away and once set back down returned to the fray, proving the Oreca is both quick and solid. The second off was of more concern #27 SMP Racing Dallara came to a stop off line on approach to the corner alight! The fire caused substantial smoke, and judging by the odour much carbon-fibre will be needed to repair this Russian team’s entry.
GTE-Pro has been impacted by a revised BoP for the Corvette Racing CR7-Rs, such tiny tolerances and margins at play, 0.2mm adjustment to the restrictor has slowed these cars from category fastest on Test Day to 9th in class currently. We hear speculation that Ford have generously provided their GM-rival with sandbags, but that as we say is idle speculation! For Ford themselves the woes and travails of Test Day seem to have passed and the Pro GT is showing better pace, indeed the fastest car the #67 of Priaulx/Derani/Tincknell clocked 3:54.118 faster than the lead Corvette on 3:54.827.
Ahead of the Transatlantic challengers it is the ever fast #95 in the hands of Nicki Thiim that sits a top the category pole at present with a 3:52.117pursue by the factory #71 and #51 Ferrari 488 GTEs both clocking 3:53s. We suspect that 3:53 or 54.0 is the target that the ACO considers appropriate for GTE-Pro, and if so it would appear they are finding a valid balance, Bravo Vincent Bravo!
To conclude the fight is equally fierce in GTE-Am with Aston Martin Racing #98 very much leading the way on a 3:55.134 for Dalla Lana/Lamy/Lauda pursued by the Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche RSR #77 and third placed TF Sport Vantage of Yoluc/Hankey/Bell (Yoluc being the 1st Turkish driver to compete in the 24h of Le Mans). The miriad of 2016-spec Ferrari 488s is led by the #83 DH Racing example of Krohn/Jonsson/Bertolini with a 3:55.966. Three different examples of four cars lead the category with 1-sec of each other over a 13.5 km lap, that is endurance motorsport racing, where to be fastest over one lap does not matter. But it does once again demonstrate the health and wealth that constitutes the World Endurance Championship and its Crown Jewel event the 85e of the 24 Heures Du Mans.
Bon Weekend mes amis !