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Le Mans Thursday Notebook

Sportscar365’s Thursday notebook from Circuit de la Sarthe following first qualifying…

Photo: John Dagys

***The No. 1 Rebellion R13 Gibson of Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Bruno Senna lost all times from Qualifying 1 due to the incorrect declaration of its fuel flow meter. The car had set the sixth quickest time overall and in the LMP1 class.

***Traffic hampered the No. 8 Toyota’s qualifying run yesterday, provisionally placing it fourth on the grid. “We are not three seconds slower than car No. 7, we just couldn’t do the lap,” said Sebastien Buemi.

***Toyota LMP1 technical director Pascal Vasselon reckons Toyota still has the capability to run in the low 3-minute 15-second range in tonight’s qualifying, despite running with an extra 10 kg compared to last year. The 2018 pole time was a 3:15.377 set by Kazuki Nakajima.

***Porsche GT motorsport director Pascal Zurlinden believes Gianmaria Bruni’s 3:47.504 GTE-Pro qualifying record from last year is safe. “It was a magic lap last year. I think lap times are 3:49.0 for all manufacturers,” he told Sportscar365.

***Porsche opted to send all four of its cars out on full qualifying runs yesterday in case of poor weather this evening, with the 911 RSRs all making the provisional top six. Zurlinden now thinks track conditions are in the right range for all GTE-Pro teams to improve.

***Ford Performance global motorsports director Mark Rushbrook said they are “keeping an eye” on the Balance of Performance situation in GTE-Am, which has seen the Keating Motorsports entry continue to struggle through Wednesday’s opening qualifying session. The No. 69 entry was slowest of all the cars that took part in Qualifying 1.

***Chip Ganassi and team managing director Mike Hull were spotted in the SMP Racing garage on Thursday with the team and BR Engineering executive director Dmitry Belousov. When asked about the meeting, Ganassi told Sportscar365: “It was a hello, how are you doing? I don’t think there’s anything to read into there.”

***Ganassi downplayed any ongoing discussions for his sports car racing team, which does not currently have a confirmed program for 2020 amid the end of Ford’s factory GT program. “Those decisions will come in due time,” he told Sportscar365. “We don’t make any decisions until we absolutely have to.”

***Multimatic’s Larry Holt believes there’s a “better than 50 percent” chance of getting customer Ford GTs on the grid for the 2019-20 WEC season, although admitted he’s still yet to finalize a deal. Holt confirmed to Sportscar365 that there will not be a Multimatic-entered Ford on the initial entry list, which will be released during tomorrow’s ACO press conference.

***Holt said he’s continued to have conversations with prospective customers and is hopeful of the ACO accepting an entry post-announcement. “If you’ve got the car and you’ve got the program and it’s entered, I don’t think there’s any doubt we could get some privateer money together to have a Pro car and potentially an Am car as well.”

***Holt believes that out of the 17 cars competing in GTE-Pro this weekend, 14 all have a chance of the class win.

***Ford’s Rushbrook said the concept of ‘Celebration’ liveries have been in the works since the very start of the program in 2015, before the Ford GT even made its competition debut. “The decision was made, and I think the right decision, in that we wanted to create our own period of history,” he told Sportscar365.

“So that 50 years from now, people would talk about the red, white and blue cars that ran in that era. I think every year post-2016 there was a proposal for retro liveries and we just kept saying no, it’s not the right time. But now, for this being the last factory year, we said this is the right time to do it.”

***Rushbrook confirmed the lack of a celebration livery for the 1968 and 1969-winning Gulf-sponsored Ford GT40s was down to its existing partnership with lubricant company Castrol.

***Risi Competizione race engineer Rick Mayer doesn’t believe the elimination of the mandated 14-lap stint length for GTE-Pro will have a major affect on race strategy, potentially except for stretching mileage on the final stint to 15 laps. 

***The team’s No. 89 Ferrari 488 GTE is sporting a French blue livery for car owner Jean Guikas and Club Ferrari France but also serves as an ode to the North American Racing Team (NART) which traditionally ran in blue.

***A NART sticker is on the rear of the car in tribute to Luigi Chinetti, according to team principal Giuseppe Risi. “It’s just a recognition because very few people out there – with Ferrari being the great product it is today – people forget who made Ferrari sometimes. You cannot forget where you come from and what your past is, and some people do,” Risi told Sportscar365.

***TOTAL was announced as the fuel supplier for the ACO’s Mission24 racing team, which plans to contest Michelin Le Mans Cup races. The official fuel supplier for the WEC will provide a hydrogen refueling station at races for the innovative project.

***The city of Le Mans renamed a street “Rue des Bentley Boys” in honor of the British manufacturer’s success in the race, which includes six overall wins. The recognition comes in Bentley’s centenary year, with Bentley Motorsport director Brian Gush on hand this weekend.

***The Ferrari Challenge support race field includes several familiar names including Louis Prette, who is pulling double duty in the series alongside his entry in the 24-hour race with Proton Competition.

***Former Gulf Racing WEC driver and A1 GP champion Adam Carroll is also in the field, as are Chris Froggatt and Thomas Neubauer, both of whom have stepped up from previous Ferrari Challenge programs into GT3 racing this year.

***Sergio Pianezzola, meanwhile, is competing in both the headline race and Road to Le Mans. The reigning Michelin Le Mans Cup GT3 champion is driving for Kessel Racing in both.

***Ozz Negri is taking part in his first race at Le Mans since 2016, at the wheel of a Spirit of Race-run Ferrari 488 GT3 alongside Francesco Piovanetti in the multi-class support race.

***Charlie Martin, who is aiming to become the first transgender racer to compete at Le Mans, has been replaced in the Racing Experience team’s Road to Le Mans LMP3 lineup after her fundraising campaign to take part fell short. Nicolas Melin is now partnering David Hauser in the No. 11 Norma M30 Nissan.

***The Le Mans Esports Series season finale takes place tomorrow and Saturday in the fan zone, featuring 36 sim racing finalists forming 12 driver global crews that will race for 24 hours on Forza Motorsport 7.

***Rebellion Racing team owner Alexandre Pesci is set for his racing debut, having been confirmed in a GM-powered V8 Buggy for next year’s Dakar Rally. Pesci will be competing alongside Romain Dumas within the Frenchman’s team.

Daniel Lloyd, Jake Kilshaw and Laurent Mercier contributed to this report

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for and SPEED Channel and has contributed to numerous other motorsports publications worldwide. Contact John

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