Toyota Gazoo Racing’s No.8 TS050 HYBRID is on provisional pole position for the 86th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours after a 3m17.270s benchmark lap from Kazuki Nakajima on the Circuit de la Sarthe in the first of the three qualifying sessions.
Nakajima’s time came right at the start of the two-hour session, the Japanese driver going just a tenth faster than the sister No.7 TS050, which slotted into second.
The laps set by the two Toyotas went unchallenged for the remainder of the session by the privateer runners. And with a strong chance of rain showers tomorrow, it’s very possible that the times set tonight were good enough for pole.
Nakajima’s time was 2.4 seconds off of Kobayashi’s record-breaking lap from last year’s Le Mans qualifying, in the same car. Also of note was that with 10 minutes remaining in the session, the stewards deleted laps 4-5-6-8-9-12-13 from the No. 8, for ‘exceeding the fuel limit per lap’, though it didn’t affect the best time from the car.
Behind, the closest LMP1 privateer runner was 2.2 seconds off the benchmark time; Stephane Sarrazin setting a 3m19.483s in the No. 17 SMP Racing BR1 AER, which was a considerably faster time than the ones set by SMP’s LMP1 cars in free practice.
The best of the Rebellion Racing R-13s slotted in fourth, the No. 1 finishing the night with a 3m19.662s, 0.3s faster than the No. 3 sister car, which ended up fifth.
DragonSpeed’s BR1 set the sixth-fastest time, but hit trouble when Renger van der Zande stopped at pit exit, while the No. 11 SMP Racing BR1 of Jenson Button, Mikhail Aleshin and Vitaly Petrov could only muster a time good enough for seventh-fastest.
Again, it was a tough outing for CEFC TRSM Racing. The No. 5 Ginetta failed to hit the track at the start of the session due to a starter motor issue, while the No. 6 underwent an engine change that resulted in it only completing 14 laps. The cars did climb the standings late on, but were unable to lap faster than the top two in LMP2, the fastest of the two (the No. 5) finishing the night’s running 11th.
Ahead of the No. 5, and atop LMP2 was the No. 48 IDEC Sport ORECA, Paul Loup Chatin again the fastest with a record-breaking 3m24.956s. That bested ex-Audi man Loic Duval’s No. 28 TDS Racing ORECA, which managed 3m25.240s. G-Drive Racing’s No. 26 ORECA completed the top three.
Once again, the best of the other LMP2 chassis wasn’t close to the top. The No. 22 United Autosports Ligier came closest to the best ORECA time, but at 3m26.722s, was almost 3.0s adrift.
In GTE Pro, the No. 91 Porsche RSR took provisional pole. Gianmaria Bruni set a blistering 3m47.504s on his first flying lap (3.3 seconds faster than last year’s record-breaking pole time), before flying off the circuit at the Dunlop Bridge and into the gravel. From there, the car was pushed behind the tire barriers and didn’t run again, making for a short but sweet run for the Italian.
The No. 92 Porsche came closest with a best time of 3m49.097s, while the No. 66 Chip Ganassi Ford GT completed the top three, a further tenth back.
With its 17 factory-backed cars, this class should be producing the most enthralling action, but continues to frustrate observers. The field was spread out considerably, with lap-record-destroying times up front, the Ferraris, BMWs, Corvettes and Aston Martins all over two seconds off the pace; and in the case of Corvette and Aston Martin, unable to better the fastest GTE Am runners.
Like in Pro, Porsche teams topped GTE Am, with Dempsey Proton Racing’s No. 88 and No. 77 911 RSRs sitting 1-2 by the end of the session, the No. 88 leading the way thanks to a rapid 3m50.728 from Matteo Cairoli to make it three out of the four class lap records broken.
Gulf Racing made it a Porsche 1-2-3 with its No. 88 911 RSR, while Spirit of Race’s No. 54 Ferrari broke up the Porsches, but finished over two seconds off.
The track action continues tomorrow evening at 19:00 local time with qualifying 2, ahead of the third and final qualifying session, which will go green at 22:00.