Kazuki Nakajima places the #7 Toyota on pole position for this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans with a lap time of 3:21.789. Equally impressive was Porsche, with the 919 hybrids qualifying second with the #14 entry piloted by Neel Jani whilst Toyota’s #8 TSO40 starts third. Fourth goes to the #20 Porsche 919 Hybrid with the Audi R18 Etron Quattro’s start 5th, 6th and 7th.

However, the closing stages of the final session were interrupted by the commencement of a Le Mans slow zone to clear the issue caused by the Murphy Prototypes Oreca 03 going off at Indianapolis. It is perhaps possible that the others had more to offer in what would have been a highly climatic close to qualifications, however a huge congratulations to Toyota, Kazuki Nakajima, Alex Wurz and Stéphane Sarrazin.

The “Slow Zone” for those unfamiliar is a concept adopted by the ACO at this year’s race and is intended to avoid the safety car being activated for minor on track incidents. The idea is that through the zone selected everyone drives at 60kph and maintains on track position. Once the zone of the track is clear, the cars then immediately reaccelerate to racing speeds, without having to neutralise the entire track. The safety car will be used still in the event of a major incident. A very similar concept has for the past couple of years been a feature of the Dubai 24, and has been successfully implemented in that event.

In LMP2, The debut of the Ligier JS P2 Nissan in competition was a highly successful one, with ELMS team Thiriet by TDS racing taking the class pole, whilst Jota Sport’s Zytek Z11 SN and Oak Racing’s Ligier JS-P2 HPD complete the top three in class.

A fantastic debut for the next generation of P2 prototypes and with Honda HPD announcing a new P2 car for next year a few weeks ago in America, Oreca already announcing it’s new P2 challenger and yesterday the news that Zytek will build a new challenger, the future of LMP2 chassis competition is looking very positive over the next few seasons.

In GTE, The battle in PRO is very tight between the manufacturers. The AF Corse Ferrari managed to secure class pole with the #51 entry, while Corvette Racings #73 follows in second and Aston Martin Racings #97 positions third. It makes for an exciting prospect come race day with the manufacturers being so close. The Porsche Team Manthey entrants qualified 6th and 7th in class and in GTE Am, AF Corse, with Sam Bird driving on his debut at Le Mans, took the class pole position honours.

The Nissan ZEOD managed to run the Mulsanne straight on electric power at 300kph which was a huge achievement by the team. The reliability is still somewhat questionable for the car, but given the experimental nature of the design, I see that pace as an achievement.

Unfortunately today also brought its share of red flags and issues with a number of cars heading off track, particularly in the second qualifying session.

The AF Corse #71 entrant was among these with James Calado at the wheel. James went to hospital for precautionary checks and will be replaced by Pierre Kaffer in the race. The car chassis will also require a replacement.

Audi Sport’s #1 had a couple of misfortunes in qualifying two with Di Grassi spinning and damaging the front of the Audi, the car was then involved in an incident with the Pegasus Morgan LMP2 which collided hard in the wall whilst taking avoiding action of the slow Audi at the end of the Porsche curves.

The driver of the Pegasus Racing entry is ok, although the car was not repairable within the qualifying sessions. The #79 Prospeed Porsche entry also had a large accident and will require substantial repairs before the race.

Finally the #99 Craft-Bamboo Aston Martin Racing entry, which had a collision late in yesterday’s first qualifying session, has officially withdrawn from the race bringing the number of starters including the Garage 56 entry down to 54.

  • MIE

    With the connection between Nissan and Renault, will there be any transfer of technology from the Garage 56 entry to the F1 Power Unit programme?
    So far the Control Electronics have ben the weakest unit across the three F1 power unit manufacturers, and none of them have approaced the distance necessary to complete Le Mans. Given the ERS available for endurance cars is far more powerfull than that in F1, there must be some scope for F1 to learn from endurance racing.

    Sorry for hi-jacking the thread slightly, but some in F1 need to come out from their Ivory Tower, and look at what the rest of the word is doing.

    • This question leads to a bigger one; would looser regs, like WEC’s power-equivalency engine/ERS formula, entice more manufacturer entrants to F1? Do we think their return a long-term boost? I think so, but it’s admittedly a conundrum, as some lament kowtowing to road car priorities, others fear recent manufacturers’ penchant for packing up suddenly. I’m personally loving how Toyota/Audi/Porsche devised unique solutions, the regulations themselves bringing in further marques like Nissan and Honda, but am sure some will argue F1 doesn’t need hybrid nor “flatulent” engines.

      As to ZEOD RC itself, what an ambitious goal; charging laps leading up to 8.5 miles full-electric, at racing speeds. 300kph down Mulsanne was pretty neat, considering the car is a lash-up still under development. I’d think ZEOD RC’s technical advantage power density in the battery pack rather than the control box, the latter proving fragile in F1 due to packaging, but who knows…

    • MIE

      The winning distance at last year’s Le Mans 24 hours was over 4,742km. SO far in the first seven race weekends of F1, only six drivers have managed to do that distance. They have all used at least 2 of every Power Unit component to achieve that distance. WEC is the real proving ground for this technology, the reliability required makes F1 look easy.

      • Could be true. I guess the question is whether the F1s failures are due to obsolete/substandard componentry, poor packaging, or harsh environment. Finding failure is how one progresses the theory. I don’t think F1 is more/less advanced than WEC, both series provide different challenges for the designers and engineers.

        I would agree that WEC’s equivalency formula produces distinct evolutionary paths, improving the breed. As mentioned, I’d like F1 to adopt this strategy if it wants to push ERS tech, but it does bring the aforementioned cost and “kowtowing” arguments up.

    • Tom Firth

      Yes and no. The connection of transference of technologies is certainly available from the garage 56 programme, however most of it will end up in the Nissan LMP1 project in 2015 onwards, as the cars evolve. This is effectively been used as a testbed by Nissan so quite how much of it ends up elsewhere in motorsport I don’t know.

      ERS system wise, certainly a link exists between the two, particularly with regards Toyota, whose programme is still very F1 style in development , as well as Audi using WilliamsF1 hybrid systems, or at least until recently. The relationship seems to work between both series in technological development.

      Additionally with F1 engines technically allowed in LMP1, you could see closer collaboration between the two series in the near future, I agree about the Ivory Tower but it does seem to be coming down slowly.

  • Tom, thanks for the summation. I find it difficult following all the action; this helps.

    As an avid follower of the series, why are so many cars falling off at the Porsche curves? It seems there’ve been more incidents than in past years. And, what did you make of Di Grassi’s move to the right in the #1 R18 during Q2? I haven’t seen the steward’s ruling.

    As it states, Porsche’s goal for 919 should be completing the race distance, but the fanboy in me hopes it beats Audi. Beating Toyota, with it’s equivalent reliability and apparent superior pace, is a pipe dream.

    • Tom Firth

      You are very welcome, Thank you for reading.

      To be honest Jeff, I really aren’t sure although I do think it’s a few contributory factors. one is the closing speed between prototypes and GT cars at Le Mans is very high, through the speed traps, a P1 car is going 325-330 kph down the Mulsanne straight, whilst a GTE Pro car is around 297 kph.

      This reflects through the porsche curves too with drivers having to make that very quick decisions when traffic interferes and there going for a lap due to the huge technical differences in the car. sometimes and more so this year, mostly due to coincidence I think, it doesn’t work out.

      The other factors I think are related to track limits and cars generally exceeding them or at least appearing too particularly in the region of the Porsche curves. This has been an issue the past few years and it seems to be something that needs changing eventually.

      I have yet to see anything that indicates what penalty if anything Di Grassi received. I saw it as Di Grassi trying to nurse a car and making an error of judgement which unfortunately the P2 car got caught up in personally.

      Another factor which I’m not sure is directly influenced is the new large sausage kerbs on the ford chicane, it could be related in drivers having to take risks slightly earlier in the lap as a result.

      I think alot of it is coincidence and unfortunately it’s all fallen on this years race, because it hasn’t been specifically one class of car that has had issues. Nothing in the actual track in that region besides I believe tec-pro barriers on the entrance to the Porsche Curves has changed this year.