The No. 17 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley topped the timing sheets after the four-hour Free Practice session for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Towards the end of the second hour, Webber, Neel Jani and Nick Tandy began to put in fast lap times, with Webber’s 3:22.228 the fastest time at the session’s halfway mark.
The Australian continued and with one hour and 50 minutes left in the session, a 3:21.362 beat last year’s pole time of 3:21.789, set by Kazuki Nakajima.
With 20 minutes remaining a charging Romain Dumas improved upon Webber’s time by almost two tenths of a second, setting the fastest time of 3:21.164. On his next lap he improved in sector two, but came into the pits at the end of the lap.
However, Dumas’ fastest laptime was deleted by race director Eduardo Freitas just when the session ended, as the French driver had abused the track limits at the Ford Chicane.
Third fastest was the No. 8 Audi R18 e-tron quattro of Loïc Duval, Lucas di Grassi and Oliver Jarvis, finishing the Free Practice session 0.785 seconds behind the No. 18 Porsche. The third works Porsche was fourth fastest, at 1.655 seconds adrift.
Audi completed the top six, with the No. 7 Audi R18 e-tron quattro taking fifth place and the No. 9 setting the sixth fastest time, 2.316 seconds slower than the No. 18 Porsche.
At 3.599 seconds in arrears, the No. 1 Toyota TS040 Hybrid of Kazuki Nakajima, Sébastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson was a distant seventh, although still 0.774 seconds faster than the second Toyota.
The three Nissan GT-R LM NISMO entries were just over 19 seconds slower than the fastest Porsche. Fastest of the three cars was the No. 21 of Tsugio Matsuda, Mark Shulzhitskiy and Lucas Ordonez.
KCMG’s Oreca 05 Nissan set the pace in LMP2, with the No. 47 of Nicolas Lapierre, Matt Howson and Richard Bradley lapping the Circuit de la Sarthe in 3:39.897. Bradley was the only LMP2 driver to get into the 3:39s.
Second fastest in LMP2 was Laurens Vanthoor in the No. 34 OAK Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda he shares with Chris Cumming and Kevin Estre. The Belgian driver set this fastest time of 3:41.311 in the final minutes.
The final minutes also saw a number of improvements in GTE. On a drying track, Richie Stanaway set the fastest lap in the No. 99 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage V8.
The driver from New Zealand went around the track in 3:55.895, outpacing the No. 64 Corvette C7.R of Tommy Milner by almost two seconds. The No. 97 Aston Martin Vantage completed the GTE-Pro top three.
Aston Martin also set the fastest time in GTE-Am, the No. 98 Vantage of Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Matthias Lauda was the sixth fastest GTE car.
Two red flags interrupted the session. A heavy crash for the Murphy Prototypes Oreca 03R Nissan at the Porsche Curves brought out the second red flag with an hour and 47 minutes left. Mark Patterson walked away from his damaged car, but barrier repairs meant the session was stopped for over 40 minutes.
At the same point, the No. 13 Rebellion R-One AER was also stopped on track with what appeared to be a loose wheel.
The first red flag came only five minutes into the session, with the KCMG Oreca stopped on track, reported with a water pressure issue.
First qualifying will take place from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. local time (4 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET).
RESULTS: Free Practice