The three sessions of qualifying for the GTE-Pro and GTE-Am classes featured a litany of spins, crashes and mechanical woes that affected many of the 28 combined cars entered in these two classes.
Driveshaft issues struck both the No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR and No. 74 Corvette C7.R in free practice, and the Corvette stopped off course just prior to the Porsche Curves. Meanwhile the No. 67 Imsa Performance Matmut Porsche 911 GT3 RSR stopped after contact at the first chicane on the Mulsanne toward the end of the session.
Those three issues set the stage for an incident-filled remainder of the pre-race on-track sessions.
In first qualifying, Fernando Rees had a heavy accident at the Porsche Curves in his No. 99 Aston Martin Vantage. The accident made a heavy dent to both the Craft-Bamboo Racing chassis and the barriers in the high-speed corners, and forced the GTE-Pro car’s withdrawal from the race.
On Thursday, the incidents restarted early in the first half hour of second qualifying when the GTE-Am entered No. 60 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia went through the gravel and returned to the track at Mulsanne Corner.
Martin Rich spun the No. 70 Team Taisan Ferrari F458 Italia (GTE-Am) out of the esses, and was narrowly avoided by the rest of the pack.
The heaviest accident of Thursday occurred shortly thereafter when James Calado suffered an off at the Porsche Curves in the No. 71 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia (GTE-Pro).
Calado’s accident forced the AF Corse team to a backup chassis, and prompted a replacement driver in the form of Pierre Kaffer. Kaffer was on site anyway as the new Lotus P1/01, which he’ll drive in selected FIA World Endurance Championship races later this year, was revealed earlier Thursday.
As Lucas di Grassi’s on-track swerve in the No. 1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro forced the No. 29 Pegasus Racing Morgan Nissan (Leo Roussel driving) to take evasive action, a separate incident occurred at the chicane just prior to the Dunlop Bridge.
Bret Curtis lost the rear of the No. 79 Prospeed Competition Porsche 911 GT3 RSR on corner entry and backed it in, which caused significant left rear damage. That GTE-Am class car’s status for the remainder of the week, as Bronze-rated driver Curtis’ status, is still yet to be determined.
The carnage in this qualifying session wasn’t done yet. The GTE-Am No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage managed to get stuck in the gravel at the Ford Chicane, and shortly thereafter the No. 60 AF Corse Ferrari contacted the slowing No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR in the chicane complex and the two both spun out.
All three cars made it back out for the third and final round of qualifying. By that point in the session, though, the checkered flag mercifully came out to end the chaos.
Still, the drama wasn’t done for GTE entries. The No. 91 Porsche 911 RSR driven by Patrick Pilet stopped on course at pit out early in the final two-hour, 30-minute qualifying session with a mechanical issue. That ended that car’s session, since the regulations state that a car can’t be pushed back to the pits.
Alvaro Parente had a fairly large shunt in the No. 52 Ram Racing Ferrari F458 Italia at Ford Chicane during the session as well, which knocked that car out for the rest of the session too.
Contact for the No. 90 8Star Motorsports Ferrari F458 Italia at the Porsche Curves – the car’s second incident of the week – brought out the first “Slow Zone” procedure of the week. The new procedure is due to be implemented for the first time at Le Mans this week.
All told, it would probably be easier to chronicle which GTE class cars in either Pro or Am didn’t have some sort of issue through Wednesday’s and Thursday’s four sessions.