Porsche Team has ended the first round of qualifying for the 24 Hours of Le Mans 1-2 overall with its pair of Porsche 919 Hybrids. The session was cut short by nearly half an hour due to an accident for one of the Aston Martin Vantage GTE-Pro class entries.
Brendon Hartley, in his first season as a Porsche factory driver, is the current provisional polesitter with a best time of 3:23.157 in the No. 20 entry he’ll share with Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard.
Neel Jani took the sister No. 14 into the 3:23 range as well, at 3:23.928. He’ll race with Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb.
The two Toyotas were next up, with the No. 7 Toyota TS040 Hybrid at 3:25.313 and the sister No. 8 at 3:25.410, respectively.
The two remaining Audis ended fifth and sixth, with the No. 2 Audi R18 e-tron Quattro at 3:26.388 and No. 3 at 3:26.445.
Rebellion Racing’s pair of LMP1-L Rebellion R-One Toyotas were 10 seconds off the pace, at 3:33.117 and 3:34.922, respectively.
The other provisional polesitters also set their best times early in the two-hour session.
Olivier Pla has the best time in LMP2 in the No. 26 G-Drive Racing Morgan Nissan at 3:38.843, first of four straight Nissans on the grid. Fellow Nissan-powered entries from Signatech Alpine, KCMG and OAK Racing were next, with the No. 34 Race Performance Morgan Judd fifth.
GTE-Pro sees four different manufacturers in the top four positions. Gianmaria Bruni clocked in at 3:54.754 in the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia, the only driver to get into that range at the moment.
The No. 97 Aston Martin Vantage, No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR and No. 73 Corvette C7.R were within 1.689 seconds in second, third and fourth.
Ferrari also led the GTE-Am class with Andrea Bertolini in the No. 72 SMP Racing Ferrari F458 Italia, at 3:56.787. The No. 61 AF Corse Ferrari was second with Patrick Long taking the No. 77 Dempsey Racing-Proton Porsche 911 RSR up to third in class. Long shares the car with Patrick Dempsey and Joe Foster.
Although it was only a qualifying session, the session seemed a battle of attrition. And with limited track time, there is a high percentage of drivers who have not yet completed their mandatory five laps at night required to qualify for the race.
The first red flag flew at the 31-minute mark for contact by Nicolas Minassian in the No. 37 SMP Racing Oreca 03 Nissan (LMP2).
After a restart before the one-hour mark, two more separate incidents occurred as Stephane Sarrazin stopped off course, driver’s right, just prior to the Dunlop Bridge in the No. 7 Toyota TS040 Hybrid.
At the same point, Fernando Rees had a heavier looking accident at the Porsche Curves in the No. 99 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage (GTE-Pro). Rees’ left side of his car, including the door and left rear quarter panels, was substantially damaged but he emerged out of his car OK.
Of note, the No. 74 Corvette C7.R that had stopped on track in free practice returned after fixing a differential problem and changing the gearbox. The Nissan ZEOD RC also returned to the track following its own gearbox issue in free practice, but failed to complete a timed lap.
Car Nos. 1, 41, 67, 76 and 90 did not set a time in this session. The No. 1 Audi, wrecked earlier by Loic Duval, requires a rebuild as the team seeks to have both the chassis and Duval ready to go for Thursday’s sessions. Duval was reported to have only “two grazes to the skin” per the Audi Sport team despite what appeared to be a very serious looking accident at the Porsche Curves.
Thursday’s pair of qualifying sessions that will set the grid for Saturday’s 24 Hours of Le Mans will occur from 7 to 9 p.m. local time (1 to 3 p.m. ET) and 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. local time (4 to 6 p.m. ET).
RESULTS: Qualifying 1