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24H Le Mans

Jani Quickest in Practice as Porsche Hits Back

Neel Jani quickest in Le Mans practice for Porsche…

Photo: John Dagys

Porsche responded to the impressive test day pace shown by LMP1 rival Toyota by storming to the top of the time sheets in the sole practice session ahead of qualifying for the 24 Hours of Le Mans on Thursday.

Toyota entered the Le Mans race week as the favorite after sweeping the top three positions on the test day, but it was Porsche who led the way in practice courtesy of defending pole sitter Neel Jani.

Jani turned in a late lap of 3:20.362 in the Porsche 919 Hybrid to edge out Toyota’s Kamui Kobayashi by six-tenths of a second, giving the German marque a boost heading into qualifying later today.

The lap was four-tenths faster than anything recorded by Toyota at the test day, and was over 2.5 seconds quicker than Porsche’s best effort on June 4.

Jani and Kobayashi’s late laps created a wider gap to the rest of the LMP1-H field, which had been covered by less than a second at one stage in the session.

Timo Bernhard finished third-fastest in the No. 2 Porsche, while Toyota followed in P4 and P5 with its No. 8 and No. 9 TS050 Hybrids respectively.

LMP2 saw G-Drive Racing hit the front courtesy of a rapid lap from Alex Lynn in the No. 26 Oreca 07 Gibson, with his time of 3:30.363 enough to give the Russian team P1 by over 1.3 seconds.

Vaillante Rebellion followed in second and third with its Nos. 13 and 31 Orecas respectively, having set the pace throughout the session before Lynn’s late flyer.

In GTE-Pro, AF Corse and Aston Martin Racing proved to be the teams to beat, battling for P1 throughout the final hour.

Ultimately it was Sam Bird in the No. 71 Ferrari 488 GTE who took top spot, finishing half a second clear of Darren Turner in the No. 97 Aston Martin Vantage GTE.

James Calado followed in third for AF Corse, seven-tenths off the pace set by the sister Ferrari.

Pedro Lamy laid down an impressive pace for Aston Martin Racing in GTE-Am, recording a best lap of 3:56.082 to finish 1.5 seconds clear of the class field.

The time would also have been good enough for seventh out of the GTE-Pro runners.

DH Racing finished second in class with the No. 83 Ferrari 488 GTE, while JMW Motorsport was third-fastest, one-tenth of a second further back.

The session went by without too many major incidents, with most of the slow zones and yellow flags being called due to debris on the track.

The No. 50 Larbre Competition Corvette C7.R spun during the second hour of practice coming out of the Porsche Curves, hitting the barrier and causing damage to its bodywork.

The team confirmed to Sportscar365 that the damage was repairable, allowing the car to head back out later in the session en route to finish second-fastest in GTE-Am.

Proton Competition’s No. 88 Porsche 911 RSR had a scare midway through the Porsche Curves late in the session, narrowly avoiding a hefty impact with the wall.

Even the leading runners were not immune to mistakes, with Kobayashi suffering a spin at the final corner while chasing the fastest lap time late in the session.

Kobayashi lost the rear end of his Toyota coming out of the Ford Chicane, sending him into a spin that denied him the chance to improve his time, suggesting there could be quicker laps to come in qualifying.

The final shunt of the session involved the No. 47 Cetilar Villorba Corse Dallara P217 Gibson at Mulsanne Corner, with Roberto Lacorte sliding off into the gravel and ending his session there.

With practice complete, all 60 entries will now turn their attention to the first stage of qualifying, which begins at 10 p.m. local time at Le Mans (4 p.m. ET) and runs until midnight (6 p.m. ET).

RESULTS: Free Practice

Luke Smith is a British motorsport journalist who has served as NBC Sports’ lead Formula 1 writer since 2013, as well as working on its online sports car coverage.


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