Rebellion Racing should be able to improve on its qualifying performance this evening and potentially break into 3:17 lap times, according to team manager Bart Hayden.
The Swiss team ended Wednesday evening’s Qualifying 1 third and sixth fastest, although it had the lap times from its No. 1 R13 Gibson, originally sixth, deleted due to an incorrect declaration of the fuel flow meter.
Rebellion’s best lap time in the first of three two-hour qualifying sessions was a 3:19.603 posted by Thomas Laurent, putting it 2.442 seconds down on Kamui Kobayashi’s pace in the No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid but ahead of the No. 8 Toyota.
SMP Racing showed the most surprising pace of the field, however, with Egor Orudzhev lapping in 3:17.633 to go just 0.472 seconds off Toyota.
“I think we’re 3:18 probably, but if you get it on the right lap, with the tires fresh and no traffic, a 3:17 is possible for us as well,” Hayden told Sportscar365.
“We could be right there as well. But I think the goalpost will move.”
Last year’s pole time was a 3:15.377 from Kazuki Nakajima, more than 1.5 seconds quicker than Toyota’s best on Wednesday evening, suggesting the field’s only hybrid cars could still improve significantly.
Rebellion had the fastest non-hybrid in qualifying 12 months ago, logging a 3:19.449, meaning it is already only 0.154 seconds away from its previous absolute best.
“We were slightly disappointed we got traffic on the best of our runs, so we could have gone a bit quicker,” Hayden said about last night’s session.
“It would be nice to nail that this afternoon or this evening.”
Qualifying aside, Hayden reckons the SMP BR Engineering BR1 AERs could be the best car on the opening lap come Saturday afternoon, owing to their straight-line speed.
Stoffel Vandoorne set an all-time speed trap record in FIA World Endurance Championship competition during the test day.
SMP proved again in Qualifying 1 that it has the best straight-line speed in the field, reaching 347.8 km/h (216.1 mph), while Rebellion managed 341.3 km/h (212.0 mph). In comparison, the two Toyotas each reached 334.9 (208.0) and 328.8 km/h (204.3 mph) on Wednesday.
This straight-line advantage for SMP, and to a lesser extent Rebellion, could put non-hybrids in the lead on the first lap.
“I think early in the race, SMP will be to the fore because they have such high top speed,” explained Hayden.
“They’ll probably be able to out-drag everybody. You might even see an SMP 1-2 into Mulsanne Corner. I think that will be interesting.
“It could be quite tight until we hit traffic, so the first stint, it should be quite interesting.”
John Dagys contributed to this report.