Team Porsche was not nearly as fast as they were a year ago, however the squad once again reigned supreme on Wednesday and currently hold both places on the front row after one day of qualifying for Saturday’s 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Although he did not match the amazing three minutes, 16 seconds lap of the 8.45 mile Circuit de la Sarthe he performed in 2015, Neel Jani once again has placed a Porsche 919 Hybrid on the provisional pole position with one day of qualifying left to run. Managing to dodge the off and on rain to post a hot lap, Jani was the only driver in the 60-car field to fire off a lap under three minutes, 20 seconds, maxing out at 3:19.733 in the No. 2 entry, which will also feature Romain Dumas and Mark Lieb this weekend.
Also matching his efforts from 2015 were Team Porsche teammate Timo Bernhard, who currently has the outside position on the front row, coming within four tenths of a second of Jani’s pole time. One thing however has changed among the manufacturer-backed hybrids in LMP1, at least in terms of the primary chasers to Porsche. Last year that role was held by Audi Sport Team Joest, who provided the most serious challenge to Porsche in the race as well. Fast forward to 2016 and at least on Wednesday night, Toyota Gazoo Racing has that title next to its two brand-new TS050 Hybrid challengers. Stephane Sarrazin led the way for the Japanese marque, placing the No. 6 entry just one second in front of teammate Anthony Davidson in the sister No. 5 machine.
Although outrun in session one, Audi’s pair of R18 E-Tron Quattros are still well within striking range in positions five and six, with Lucas di Grassi ahead of Andre Lotterer. After posting the fastest lap overall in the Le Mans Official Test Day on Sunday, June 5th, the Brazilian was nearly a full second slower on Wednesday night.
In LMP2, former Audi factory driver Rene Rast placed the No. 26 G-Drive Racing ORECA 05 coupe on provisional pole at three minutes, 36.605 seconds, a half second faster than the first of the two Signatech Alpine ORECAs who placed second and third on Wednesday night. The question however, is whether Nelson Panciatici in the No. 35 Signatech entry will keep his runner-up position entering the second session of qualifying on Thursday. As OnPitRoad.com went to press, the FIA was investigating claims that Panciatici had posted his fastest laps during a yellow flag period when Giancarlo Fisichella’s Risi Ferrari 488 GTE found the gravel trap at the Porsche Curves.
Assuming no action is taken, the sister car of Nicolas Lapierre will begin session two from the number three position in LMP2, with Manor Racing’s ORECA 05 in fourth and Michael Shank Racing’s Honda-powered Ligier coupe in position five. In addition to the strong effort by MSR’s Laurens Vanthoor, Extreme Speed Motorsports’ Pipo Derani placed a second American-based entry in the top six, the fastest of the Nissan-powered Ligiers.
In GTE-Pro, Chip Ganassi Racing’s quartet of Ford GTs appear to be the fastest over a single lap, placing all of its entries in the top five on Wednesday night. Fastest of the four was Dirk Muller at three minutes, 51.185 seconds, over three seconds ahead of the class pole time set last year by Prodrive Aston Martin’s Richie Stanaway. The regulations in the division were changed greatly following last year’s event, accounting for the improvement in lap times on Wednesday.
Best of the rest among the professional grand touring entries was the lead AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE of Gianmaria Bruni, who provisionally holds the number four starting position. While Ford and Ferrari each gained significant ground from the test day, Porsche and Corvette who led the field during the same June 5th session, fell down the order on Wednesday. Porsche factory driver Nick Tandy only posted the eighth fastest lap in GTE-Pro, while Corvette’s pair of C7.Rs posted the slowest two times in session one.
Finally in GTE-Amateur, Singapore-based Clearwater Racing surprised many by placing its Ferrari 458 Italia on the provisional class pole thanks to the efforts of British Le Mans veteran Rob Bell. Bell’s three minutes, 56.627 second lap was even a full second faster than the slowest Corvette Racing C7.R in GTE-Pro.
Prodrive Aston Martin’s Pedro Lamy placed his AMR Vantage V8 in the second spot of the current grid, with two AF Corse Ferraris in the following two positions, and the Larbre Competition Chevrolet Corvette of Jean-Phillipe Belloc completing the first five.
Stay tuned to OnPitRoad.com for continued coverage of the 84th 24 Hours of Le Mans.