Neel Jani continued to set the pace at Circuit de la Sarthe by taking provisional pole in first qualifying for the 24 Hours of Le Mans on Wednesday evening.
The Swiss driver managed a time of 3:19.733 to put the No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid he shares with Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas four-tenths clear of Timo Bernhard’s sister car. His lap was some 2.8 seconds faster than he managed in Free Practice this afternoon.
Behind the Porsches, Toyota locked out third and fourth places on the TS050 Hybrid’s first outing at Le Mans.
A time of 3:20.737 inside the first ten minutes of the session from Stephane Sarrazin in the No. 6 car was the best the team could muster and put them over one-second ahead of Anthony Davidson in the No. 5 car.
A late improvement from Lucas di Grassi in the No. 8 Audi R18 jumped the Brazilian ahead of teammates Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler in the No. 7 car.
It was a difficult session for Audi, which had to replace the MGU on the No. 8 car after striking a curb, while the No. 7 car suffered a small leak in a fuel connector. Both cars joined the session late due to these delays.
In LMP2, René Rast managed the fastest time in the No. 26 G-Drive Oreca 05 Nissan, half a second ahead of Nelson Panciatici’s Baxi DC Racing Alpine.
However, the Frenchman was placed under investigation for improving his times under yellow flags after Giancarlo Fisichella spun his Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE into the gravel at the Porsche Curves.
Nicolas Lapierre provisionally held third in the No. 36 Signatech-Alpine A460b Nissan, ahead of Roberto Merhi’s No. 44 Manor Oreca Nissan.
A late improvement from Dirk Mueller in the No. 68 Ford GT meant the Blue Oval provisionally holds first and second positions in the GTE-Pro class on its highly-anticipated Le Mans return.
At 3:51.185, Mueller’s lap was 3.7 seconds faster than Richie Stanaway’s pole time from last year as the turbo-charged Fords and Ferraris demonstrated a significant pace advantage over the rest of the field.
All four Fords featured in the top five in class, with Ryan Briscoe taking the second fastest time in the No. 69 Ford.
The Australian pipped Gianmaria Bruni in the best of the AF Corse Ferrari 488s, followed by the WEC-entered Fords driven by Harry Tincknell and Olivier Pla.
Fred Makowiecki was the best of the normally aspirated contingent in eighth position, managing a best time of 3:54.918 in his No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR.
In the GTE-Am class, Rob Bell’s Clearwater Racing Ferrari F458 Italia took provisional pole ahead of Pedro Lamy’s Aston Martin Vantage GTE.
Several cars had minor offs during the two-hour session, however, the only stoppage was to recover Fisichella’s Ferrari, one of several beneficiaries of the newly re-profiled Porsche Curves’ additional run-off.
Two additional qualifying sessions are scheduled for tomorrow evening, although thunderstorms, which are in the forecast, may result in this evening’s times setting the grid for the race.
RESULTS: Qualifying 1