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Le Mans Thursday Notebook

Check out Sportscar365’s latest notebook following Le Mans Hyperpole…

Photo: Charly Lopez/DPPI

***Porsche scored its 19th pole position in the 24 Hours of Le Mans courtesy of Kevin Estre’s fastest lap in Hyperpole on Thursday night. It marked the German manufacturer’s first since 2016, when Neel Jani took top honors in a Porsche 919 Hybrid, as well as the Stuttgart marque’s 23rd pole in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

***Estre’s pole-clinching time aboard the No. 6 Porsche 963 of 3:24.634 in Hyperpole compares to a 3:22.982 for Antonio Fuoco last year. The pole time in LMP2 of 3:33.217 set by Louis Deletraz in the No. 14 AO by TF Sport Oreca 07 Gibson was also shy of Paul-Loup Chatin’s 2023 class benchmark of 3:32.923.

***Deletraz secured the first-ever Le Mans pole for a U.S.-flagged team in LMP2, as well as the Swiss driver’s first in the WEC. It’s also the first WEC pole for an LMP2 Pro-Am team since the 2022 Spa race.

***On his pole-winning lap, Estre said: “It was a very tough session, a lot of things going on, red flag. I was trying to manage the traffic and not having a lot of fuel. It was quite stressful, but the car was amazing to drive. I did a good lap I think, I just had to pass an LMP2 into Indianapolis. It feels very good to stand here [in the Hyperpole ceremony].”

***Cadillac Racing narrowly missed out on what would have been the General Motors marque’s first pole position after Estre’s last-ditch effort in Hyperpole. A five-place grid penalty for the No. 2 Cadillac V-Series.R means the sister No. 3 Chip Ganassi Racing-run machine will join the No. 6 Porsche on the front row.

***Sebastien Bourdais had the provisional top time of 3:24.816 but didn’t go back out after the red flag caused by Dries Vanthoor’s crash in the No. 15 BMW M Hybrid V8 as the No. 3 car wasn’t carrying sufficient fuel. “It is what it is,” said Bourdais. “At the end of the day, I was super happy that we could jam that thing in. It’s amazing and awesome for Cadillac. I’m really happy.”

***The 45-year-old Frenchman added: “The car hasn’t felt great for most of the test, but when we hit the track for qualifying, the car was amazing. This time I didn’t get any traffic. The first prep lap I just pushed through because I knew it was a throw-away lap. That’s why when they told me I was only going to get one lap, I was thinking there was no way and that I couldn’t get the tires up to temperature.”

***Inception Racing’s Brendan Iribe described his LMGT3 pole as a “dream come true” as he took top spot for McLaren on the British brand’s first visit to Le Mans since 1998. “I have to thank the entire team, especially my coach and long-time teammate Ollie Millroy,” said the American driver. “We started in GT4 five years ago, and to go from not being in a race car at all to pole at Le Mans is just an incredible journey.”

***Hertz Team JOTA will conduct a shakedown at Le Mans Arnage Airport with its rebuilt No. 12 Porsche 963 on Friday evening following Callum Ilott’s crash in Wednesday night’s Free Practice 2 that forced it to sit out Hyperpole.

***Team principal Dieter Gass said in a statement: “As part of the process of preparing the No. 12 car for the race, we have now been granted permission to shakedown on the nearby airfield on Friday evening. The replacement monocoque has arrived, so we have just over 24 hours to build our car – a job which normally takes three weeks.”

***It remains unclear whether the No. 12 car will be allowed to start the race from eighth on the grid or whether it will be relegated to the rear of the 23-car Hypercar field, with the decision understood to be at the discretion of the stewards.

***Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Kamui Kobayashi believes that the time difference on the out lap between the soft- and medium-compound Michelin tires is at least ten seconds, which could be a major performance differentiator come the race.

***Kobayashi said: “When you are in the car, it’s obviously quite challenging [on the out lap]. A small difference in temperature can make a big difference. For the soft, we just need one lap to warm them. For the medium, it’s two laps.”

***Alpine team principal Philippe Sinault has been impressed by Mick Schumacher’s progression in endurance racing since making the move over from Formula 1. “He arrived with an open mind and a lot of humility, and in the end Nico [Lapierre] and Matthieu [Vaxiviere] support him and are working all the time to help him,” said Sinault. “Mick is a very good student, and so his level today is quite impressive. He is fully ready now.”

***Isotta Fraschini Duqueine driver Jean-Karl Vernay admits that a lack of track time in the lead up to Wednesday’s first qualifying hindered his performance, although he believes he was on course to set a lap more than one second faster than his eventual best effort of 3:29.865 at the time of the red flags came out.

***Vernay told Sportscar365: “We were pretty unlucky with the traffic; I didn’t have a single lap with the third sector clear, although I was on course for a 3:28.5 until the red flag. I only did three laps in Free Practice 1 because I have to give a lot of time to my younger teammates [Antonio Serravalle and Carl Wattana Bennett], and it’s impossible to get prepared, so for sure I am missing some time.”

***On Isotta’s race prospects, Vernay added: “It’s too bad we couldn’t show more speed on paper, but our race pace is always much better than qualifying, and we are very confident on reliability. We are confident about finishing the race as we did at Imola and Spa, and now we just need to gain some pace. With zero kilometers of testing during the season, it’s not easy, but we’ll do our best.”

***A spokesperson for the FIA clarified to Sportscar365 that checks on tire pre-heating are being conducted this week in response to Antonello Coletta’s comments about the potential for cars to gain an advantage on out laps while the tires are still cold.

***Regarding tire warming, the supplementary regulations state: “Any process that involves a direct or indirect attempt at modifying the temperature of a tire (compared to the ambient temperature) is forbidden. This includes but is not limited to: warming of the car’s suspension components, wheel hub assembly and braking system; modification of the filling medium, water heating system/element when washing the wheels.”

***Ferrari F1 team principal Frederic Vasseur was seen at Le Mans on Thursday, along with the team’s newly-recruited sporting director Jerome d’Ambrosio. Alpine F1 drivers Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon, as well as Alpine Academy member and former Le Mans racer Sophia Floersch, were also among the days’ visitors to the paddock.

***Michelin has signed a multi-year extension of its title partnership with the Le Mans Cup, which began in 2016 and sees the French marque supply tires to all competitors. Michelin will also continue to supply the LMP3 class of the European Le Mans Series.

***Friday sees a break in track action for the main race, although the Fun Cup support race is scheduled to take place from 9 a.m. local time (3 a.m. EDT) to 1 p.m. (7 a.m. EDT). The annual ACO  press conference is scheduled for 11 a.m. local time (5 a.m. EDT).

Jamie Klein is Sportscar365's Asian editor. Japan-based Klein, who previously worked for Motorsport Network on the Motorsport.cоm and Autosport titles, covers the FIA World Endurance Championship and SUPER GT, among other series.

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