Today saw the first day of track action at Le Mans, with the event’s singular free practice session, followed by qualifying which is broken into three sessions..
Free practice opened well with teams eager to hit the track in front of a fantastic crowd. The Toyotas heading down the mulsanne straight in excess of 320 kph was incredible. Not everyone had a great first few minutes however, with this years Garage 56 Nissan ZEOD unfortunately coming to a halt on the cars initial lap.
A horrific accident for Loic Duval in the #1 Audi brought the session to a worrying halt. Despite the large impact, Audi Sport reported that Duval was remarkably unhurt. With Audi Sport further reporting this evening that the only injuries he has sustained are grazes. It just shows the strength and development of safety that has gone into these LMP1 prototypes. The aim now is for Audi to rebuild the car from a spare chassis and attempt to qualify tomorrow. I wish Loic the best in his recovery.
The session also proved tough for the #92 Porsche Team Manthey entry, with the car having a drive shaft issue early in the session. Larbre’s Morgan-Nissan LMP2 additionally suffered a tyre failure which resulted in a slow trip back to the pits for the team.
In GTE PRO Corvette Racing’s Corvette C7 #74 came to a halt out on track with 45 minutes of the session remaining.
The second red flag was then thrown due to the #67 IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche going off at the first chicane. Proceedings resumed until 8 Star Motorsport’s Ferrari 458, driven by Frankie Montecalvo, hit the barrier at the second mulsanne chicane which brought the practice session to a close.
LMP1 fastest – Toyota Racing #8 – 3:22:652
LMP2 – #35 Oak Racing Ligier JS P2 – 3:40.611
GTE PRO – #51 AF Corse – 3:57.028
GTE Am – #95 Aston Martin Racing – 3:57.015
Qualifying Session one
The first scheduled two-hour qualifying session began with an early yellow flag in the first chicane, whilst Toyota put on an impressive display with the two TS040’s lapping in formation in the fading light at Le Mans.
Meanwhile Porsche’s 919 LMP1’s created sparks as the cars bottomed out around the circuit, with both teams developing some incredible sights as a result early in the session.
Fabio Leimer in his first outing at Le Mans for Rebellion’s Racing’s #12 R-One went off the track early in the session near the end of the Porsche curves however he re-joined the circuit without damage. Meanwhile Porsche’s LMP1 squad showed a strong hand, moving the cars into 1-2 on the timesheets.
The first red flag of the session came out with Nicolas Minassians SMP Racing Oreca 03 coming to a halt. When the session resumed the Nissan ZEOD eventually managed to get some track time after a difficult start to the earlier practice session. The Garage 56 prototype looked fantastic through the Dunlop curves heading through Tetre Rouge and onto the Mulsanne straight in the June darkness.
Frustrations continued with Toyota’s #8 TS040 grounding to a halt with the car requiring assistance due to it’s stranded position next to the Dunlop Bridge.
The session was also tough for Aston Martin Racing with the #95 having contact with the barrier, whilst the #99 sister car had a large accident at the Porsche Curve bringing out the second red flag of the session.
Due to the extensive barrier repairs required, the session was brought to a close 30 minutes before the scheduled conclusion. Fernando Rees was fine but the car itself suffered heavy damage on the left.
From a sporting perspective, Toyota set the fastest speed of the day. However not everything is going the way of the Japanese favourite. The sector times don’t show that Toyota are dominant throughout the lap nor does the reliability factor. With Porsche putting in strong pace tonight and Audi having stronger pace than expected, we could gain a three-way fight for the pole.
However, how much you can read into a highly abridged qualifying session? I’m not really sure, hopefully tomorrow brings more track time and we can start to fully understand the pace of these three manufacturers as well as gain valuable track time in a safe, enjoyable day which brings us two qualifying sessions.
Fastest 3 Per class following qualifying one.
LMP1 Porsche 919 Hybrid #20 3:23.157
Porsche #14 919 Hybrid 3:23.928
#7 Toyota Racing TS040 Hybrid 3:35.313
#36 GDrive Racing – Morgan – Nissan 3:38.843
#36 Signatech Alpine – Alpine A450b – 3:39.490
#47 KCMG Oreca 03R 3:39.586
#51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 3:53.754
#97 Aston Martin Racing 3:45.067
#92 Porsche Team Manthey 3:55.067
#72 SMP Racing Ferrari 458 3:56.787
#61 AF Corse Ferrari 458 3:56.919
#77 Dempsey Racing – Proton Porsche 911 RSR 3:57.004
Update – It has just been confirmed by Jota Sport, that Marc Gene, Audi’s reserve driver who was due to race for Jota Sport in LMP2, will take Loic Duval’s place in the #1 Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro. Oliver Turvey will therefore race with Jota Sport in Marc’s place.