Alpine leads third Le Mans practice

Rainier Ehrhardt/Motorsport Images

Alpine leads third Le Mans practice

Le Mans/WEC

Alpine leads third Le Mans practice

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Signatech Alpine’s A480 took the top spot in the final moments of the third Free Practice session at Le Mans this afternoon. Nicolas Lapierre in a late qualifying sim set a blistering 3m26.594s, 1.4 seconds clear of the Toyotas, giving the French marque a big confidence boost ahead of the final part of qualifying ahead of the 89th Le Mans 24 Hours.

Prior to Lapierre’s flyer, the Toyota’s No. 7 GR010 HYBRID Hypercar looked set to sit top at the end of the marathon three-hour session after birthday boy Mike Conway set his best time early on, a 3m28.064s.

The Japanese marque ended up second and third in the times ahead of the Hyperpole session tonight that will decided the top six places on the grid in each class. The No. 8 GR010 finished up third with a 3m28.260s. The headline for Toyota, though, was its heavily disrupted session. The No. 7 had a mostly fault-free run but had to stop out on track for a reset at Mulsanne with 80 minutes left.

The No. 8, meanwhile, had a worse time as Sebastien Buemi had multiple offs, before Kazuki Nakajima went backwards into the barriers at Indianapolis after losing the rear end with 26 minutes remaining.

“It was a difficult session in the end for me,” said Nakajima. “It was my mistake — I locked the brake into Turn 16 and damaged the car. The hit was not huge, but it cost a lot of track time and it also cost the preparation for Brendon (Hartley)’s qualifying as well. Big apologies to the team and my teammates, mechanics and everyone. It was not the best thing to happen.”

Nakajima did eventually make it back to the pits under his own power, giving the team a chance to inspect the damage before the end of the session. Lapierre almost made an identical mistake on his in-lap at the end of the session, but thankfully he was able to keep it out of the barriers.

Glickenhaus had a pretty tough session. The American crew only managed a total of 26 laps across both its 007s. The best time came from Pipo Derani in the No. 708 in the second half of the running, a 3m28.728s. The No. 709, meanwhile, finished up 28th, with an engine issue reported at the end of the session following the car’s engine and gearbox change overnight.

In LMP2 JOTA, like Alpine, claimed the fastest time right at the end of the session, Antonio Felix sa Costa set a 3m30.507s to go top in the No. 38 ORECA, before improving again at the end with a 3m20.213s to go 0.4s up on the two United Autosports examples that were pushed to second and third.

Phil Hanson set the second best time, a 3m30.660s in the No. 22, ahead of the No. 23 which set a 3m31.144s, with forthcoming Peugeot Hypercar man Paul di Resta driving.

LMP2 saw two hefty incidents in the session, with the No. 17 IDEC Sport and No. 21 DragonSpeed ORECAs both hitting the barriers hard nose first on the run up to the Dunlop bridge on driver’s right. Dwight Merriman in the No. 17 was first to lose the rear end under braking, bringing up the first of two red flags with just over two hours to run. This came moments after the No. 48 sister IDEC ORECA was hit by the Racing Team Nederland ORECA at Mulsanne, a costly sequence for the team.

Then, an hour later, it was Juan Pablo Montoya’s turn to hit the tires, the Colombian forcing the marshals to repair the barriers again after he too went head first into them. Both cars had their front and rear ends damaged from the impacts and are question marks for the final practice session of the week tonight.

There were multiple other incidents for LMP2 teams in this heavily interrupted session, with the Duqueine No. 30, Racing Team Nederland, Richard Mille Racing and No. 20 High Class Racing ORECAs all either having off-track excursions or stopping out on track.

In the GTE categories it was all Porsche, with 911 RSR 19s sitting 1-2-3 in both classes. Pro saw the No. 92 on top, with a 3m28.126s, 1.3s clear of the WeatherTech Racing Porsche which split the two factory Porsches and ended up second after a 3:49.435 from Le Mans winner Earl Bamber. The No. 91 completed the top three.

Best of the rest were the two AF Corse Ferraris, which ended up fourth and fifth, both over two seconds off.

Dempsey Proton Racing’s No. 88 Porsche, meanwhile, took top spot in Am, with the No. 56 Team Project 1 and No. 77 Dempsey Proton 911s rounding out the top three. Proton’s No. 99 Porsche made it a Porsche 1-2-3-4, with the No. 83 AF Corse Ferrari the quickest of the chasing Ferrari and Aston Martins in fifth.

The biggest drama in Am affected the No. 18 Absolute Racing art-liveried Porsche, which suffered major suspension damage after Marco Seefriend clattered the curbs at the Ford Chicane early in the session.

RESULTS

UP NEXT: Hyperpole qualifying shootout, 9:00 p.m. local time

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