The 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours Test Day wasn’t without its dramas, finishing with “rookie” Fernando Alonso setting the fastest time in each of the two sessions, putting the No. 8 TS050 HYBRID top of the times throughout the day with a best lap of 3m19.066s.
It wasn’t a dominant run for the Japanese marque in pace terms, though, as the running order finished with the No. 3 Rebellion R-13 Gibson splitting the two Toyotas after multiple fast times throughout the day, first from Thomas Laurent and later Mathias Beche, who ensured the No. 3 was the only other car to break the 3m20s barrier with a 3m19.680s.
Behind, the No. 1 Rebellion ended up fourth behind the No. 7 Toyota, and was unable to match the pace of the sister car, but it did finish ahead of the other six LMP1 non-hybrid runners after a late flyer from Andre Lotter, the multiple Le Mans winner posting a 3m21.3s to put himself above the SMP Racing BR1 AERs.
That lap capped off another promising showing for the Swiss-flagged team, which completed 73 and 65 laps through the day for its No. 1 and No. 2 cars, more than the other privateer teams (but less than the two Toyotas which combined to complete over 200 laps.)
The faster of the two SMP cars was the No. 11, which features Le Mans rookie Jenson Button. After early sensor issues cost the car valuable track time, the Briton managed to complete his 10 rookie laps and gradually get acclimatized to both the car and circuit throughout the day.
“It’s been good. This morning we had issues so I didn’t get much running in,” Button commented. “I’m getting to grips with the car now – I did laps this afternoon and felt confident. Making progress, we need more laps but I’ve really enjoyed it, it’s been a great experience.
“The lap times are crazy fast – for the non-hybrids to be getting into the 19s is amazing.”
Fastest in the No. 11, though, was Button’s teammate and former F1 colleague Vitaly Petrov, who set a 3m21.603s, 2.5 seconds off Alonso’s time.
While it’s too early to truly know where the privateers stand in raw pace, and will stand during the race when full stints come into play, what we saw at the test was encouraging. For the non-hybrid front-runners what it looks like we’ll see is the potential for a very entertaining start to the Le Mans 24 Hours, before the artificial Equivalence of Technology restrictions come into play and inevitably cost the privateers valuable time at at the end of each stint and during each pit stop.
ByKolles also impressed with its ENSO CLM, the car ending the day seventh after 53, but showing off real progress thanks to a 3m23.644s from Dominik Kraihamer, a time faster than its best lap in qualifying last year.
Elsewhere, it was DragonSpeed’s BR1 and the two CEFC TRSM Ginettas that had a tough time, all three cars failing to set any sort of meaningful times in the morning session, before slowing climbing the order throughout the afternoon.
In the BR1, Renger Van Der Zande, fresh from his IMSA run at Detroit with Wayne Taylor Racing, parachuted in with the main aim of completing his rookie laps. The Dutchman was able to get them in late in the day, his time in the car headlined by a single lap quick 3m26.9s tour, after the car had to be recovered to the garage after an outlap in the morning session for a technical failure for the newly rebuilt car.
The Ginettas, meanwhile, also found more rhythm in the afternoon session, but ultimately didn’t manage to complete as much mileage as the team had hoped — just 92 laps combined. The main objective of ensuring that Mike Simpson, Charlie Robertson and Oliver Rowland completed their rookie laps was completed, however.
The two cars finished the test a thousandth of a second apart, both with 3m28.1s, the No. 6 leading the No. 5, but without a low-downforce aero package, behind the leading pair in LMP2.
Making it a better day for DragonSpeed, the leading LMP2 was the team’s 07 Gibson, the car going top with a 3m27.228s from Nat Berthon. Behind, the No. 48 IDEC Sport ORECA slotted in second, making it a 1-2 in the class for Michelin, which this year is going toe-to-toe with Dunlop in both the ELMS and WEC LMP2 fields.
While it wasn’t necessarily the same story as last year, which saw ORECA completely dominate on pace at Le Mans, there was still a level of advantage for the runners with 07s in the field this year up against the updated Dallaras and Ligiers in the field.
The best Ligier came from United Autosports, Filipe Albuquerque — another IMSA runner who jetted across the Atlantic to drive in the test after racing at Detroit — putting the team’s No. 22 JS P217 as high as fifth, before eventually ending up sixth by the end of the day with a time just over two seconds off the DragonSpeed ORECA.
“We’ve had a really great day with the pace of the car very good,” United Autosport’s owner Richard Dean said after the running. “At this test 12 months ago, we had to motivate ourselves after finishing so far off the [LMP2] pace but what a difference a year makes! Additionally, there’s definitely more time to come from the Ligier and the drivers so I’m extremely happy.
“Juan Pablo (Montoya) completed his first laps around Le Mans and even for such an experienced driver as him, it’s an eye-opener, so he’ll come back for race week in a stronger position. The team has done a great job in preparing for this test weekend, especially considering we’re here with two cars for the first time.”
Dallara’s best, meanwhile, came from Italian ELMS regular Cetilar Villorba Corse with IMSA’s Detroit winner Felipe Nasr putting up a 3m29.968s to go eighth in the class.
UP NEXT: The next time the cars hit the track in a public session at La Sarthe will be for practice in race week, ahead of the race proper, set for June 16-17.