Neel Jani has easily set a new lap record at the Circuit de la Sarthe in Wednesday’s first two-hour qualifying session for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, to score the provisional pole in the session that may well set the grid for this weekend’s race.
The previous mark had been a 3:18.513 by Stephane Sarrazin set in 2008, with a Peugeot 908 HDi FAP, while last year’s pole time was a 3:21.789 by Kazuki Nakajima in the Toyota TS040 Hybrid.
With weather uncertain for Thursday’s sessions, as the track and ambient temperatures are expected to be hotter and with rain still possible, conditions were ideal for drivers and cars to set their best laps in cooling temperatures and a dry track.
It didn’t take long for the lap record to fall, as first Timo Bernhard and then Jani immediately blitzed Sarrazin’s previous mark.
Bernhard took the red No. 17 Porsche 919 Hybrid to 3:17.767 to open the session, with Jani blowing past him by a further eight tenths on his first flying lap, at 3:16.887 in the black No. 18 Porsche 919 Hybrid.
It put the two Porsches on the front row from the off, with Nick Tandy bringing the third Porsche into the top three 25 minutes into the session after his first flying lap of 3:19.297.
The three Audis were next, with Loic Duval best of the three Audi R18 e-tron quattros in fourth place at 1:19.866 in the No. 8 car. The Nos. 9 and 7 Audis were fifth and sixth.
Benoit Treluyer had an incident just shy of the one-hour mark in the No. 7 Audi, following a spin on corner exit in the first chicane on the Mulsanne straight.
Another Frenchman, in the form of race debutante Gaetan Paletou in the No. 41 Greaves Motorsport Gibson 015S Nissan, had an incident at Mulsanne corner at the end of the straight.
Paletou’s incident brought out the first and only red flag of the session with an hour and one minute remaining, and lasted until 11:25 p.m. A notice from the stewards was released that read, “Due to local law, session must end at midnight 24:00.”
Toyota was unable to better a 3:23.543 in the session, with the No. 2 Toyota TS040 Hybrid driven by Stephane Sarrazin, Alexander Wurz and Mike Conway ending in seventh.
The fastest of the debuting Rebellion R-One AERs got into the 3:26 range, with the No. 12 car at 3:26.874, while the best Nissan, the No. 23 Nissan GT-R LM NISMO, posted a best time of 3:38.468.
Richard Bradley set the early mark in LMP2 with the No. 47 KCMG Oreca 05 Nissan at 3:38.032, and his lap was not eclipsed for the rest of the session. Bradley shares the car with Matthew Howson and Nicolas Lapierre.
The pair of Gibson 015S Nissans were second and third in class, with the No. 41 Greaves car ahead of the No. 38 Jota Sport car. The fastest of the Ligier JS P2 Nissans was the No. 26 G-Drive Racing entry in fourth.
Aston Martin swept the GTE classes, with Richie Stanaway and Pedro Lamy quickest in GTE-Pro and GTE-Am, respectively.
Stanaway took the No. 99 Hanergy-backed Aston Martin Vantage V8 to the overall best time in GTE with a 3:54.928, and Lamy was only 0.174 of a second behind at 3:55.102 in one of the three Gulf-liveried cars, the No. 98 Aston Martin.
The defending Le Mans-winning No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia was second in GTE-Pro, ahead of the two remaining Aston Martins and No. 63 Corvette C7.R.
Two further qualifying sessions follow on Thursday, from 7 to 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. local time.
RESULTS: First Qualifying