***Times in Wednesday’s four-hour Free Practice session at Le Mans were up on last year’s session in three of the four classes. The LMP1 lap time was 1.7 seconds quicker, while GTE-Am runners went 1.5s faster. As expected, LMP2 smashed last year’s laps, finding almost nine seconds. GTE-Pro was around one second slower.
***Anthony Davidson has doubts about Toyota team director Rob Leupen’s claim that laps could hit the 3:15s in qualifying. Davidson said there is a pace increase, largely thanks to Toyota’s powertrain development, but he is more focused on Toyota’s race pace.
***Davidson also flagged up his issue with the current Le Mans qualifying format that makes traffic a problem for the LMP1 runners in particular, preventing them from recording the fastest lap time possible. “We might not see it because we get so much traffic on a lap. So if qualifying shouldn’t be about traffic, then let’s do it without,” he said.
***Larbre Competition’s crash during practice could lead to a particularly late night for its art car designer. While the team has replacement bodywork parts, they do not feature the art design, meaning they need to be repainted on to the No. 50 Corvette C7.R.
***The unique “Human” livery made it’s public debut for assembled fans and media at the track on Wednesday. The comic book inspired design aims “…to give super powers to the drivers who are the heroes of the race,” according to the artist Ramzi Adek.
***Toyota’s Leupen expects this weekend’s warm weather to play a factor in the race. Today saw a high of 32 degrees Celsius (89 degrees Fahrenheit), during Free Practice. “You will have to manage the car in a different way,” he told Sportscar365. “When it’s colder, it will also have an impact on the tires.”
***Also adding to the challenge is a new rule for 2017 that limits the continuous drive time to 80 minutes if ambient temperatures reach 32 degrees. The rule, enforced at times defined by officials prior to the race, is only applicable to cars without air conditioning systems.
***Leupen said the ACO’s expected release of the 2020 LMP1 regulations on Friday will be with the hope of attracting additional manufacturers. Toyota’s current program is confirmed through the end of 2019. “Nevertheless, for us, we have anticipated this and we would like to be here very much in 2020,” he said. “That’s where we have to fight hard for.”
***Should Toyota pull off an elusive victory on Sunday, Leupen said it would not impact the longevity of its program. “From my point of view, no.” he said. “I think if we would win here, you would like to defend your title, and not take it and turn your back and run away.”
***The future of Porsche in LMP1, however, is unclear following reports of the German manufacturer potentially withdrawing from the WEC at the end of this year. It’s understood a decision will be taken from the board prior to the Mexico City round in September on whether it will continue into 2018, as previously announced.
***Tony Kanaan has said he was Sebastien Bourdais’ favorite pick to replace him in the No. 68 Ford GT for Le Mans, with a decision being taken the day after the Frenchman’s accident at Indianapolis. “I went to speak to him when this idea came up and Chip invited me, and the nicest thing he said to me was ‘I wouldn’t like to see anybody better than you in this car’, so that makes me feel better,” Kanaan said.
***ACO Sporting Director Vincent Beaumesnil said they haven’t given up on Garage 56, despite having no innovative entry this year. He told Sportscar365 that they have “many contacts” that are under evaluation. “We make a proper evaluation of Garage 56 and when we have strong projects, we will go ahead. Otherwise, we will wait.”
***Beaumesnil indicated Don Panoz’s new GT-EV, set to be unveiled on Thursday, could be a future candidate but will still need to be evaluated before coming to any form of decision.
***Onroak Automotive publicly unveiled a model of its new Ligier JS P4 during a launch event on Wednesday afternoon. The new entry level prototype is targeted at customers racing between the CN and LMP3 platforms in series such as VdeV and 24H Proto Endurance Series.
***Ginetta has shared a 50 percent scale model of its non-hybrid LMP1 privateer machine beginning wind tunnel testing at the Williams Advanced Engineering center. Adrian Reynard is among the many lead design consultants in the project, which is due to make its competition debut in 2018.
***Larbre team boss Jack Leconte said his team is still working toward returning the WEC grid with a pair of Corvette C7.R’s next year. Leconte indicated running a GTE-Pro entry alongside a GTE-Am entry makes better financial sense than running a single car, but the project still needs to be finalized.
***Leconte added that the five-time Le Mans class-winning squad is also considering projects in the Blancpain GT Series and elsewhere should their bid to return to the WEC with Corvette fail to materialize. He admitted BMW’s new M8 GTE could be an option in 2019, should the German manufacturer offer customer cars.
***Fernando Rees has praised Corvette Racing for the support it offers to the Larbre team, the only Corvette entrant in GTE-Am. The Brazilian was third in Free Practice, although the No. 50 Corvette spent time in the garage after Christian Philippon crashed exiting the Porsche Curves.
***Le Mans debutants Tockwith Motorsports had to re-weigh its No. 34 Ligier JS P217 Gibson before first practice, due to being underweight. The car set a best time of 3:37.913 in the four-hour session to end up 21st in class.
***Three Ferrari 488 GTE cars on the grid this weekend have been upgraded from the manufacturer’s GT3 variant. Both the No. 83 DH Racing and No. 60 Clearwater Racing Ferraris competed in GT3 configuration in Asia last year, while the No. 65 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari is one of the team’s GT Daytona class cars in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
***Scuderia Corsa’s No. 62 Ferrari, with defending GTE-Am class winners Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell, plus Cooper MacNeil, meanwhile, is the team’s GTE chassis from last year’s partial season GT Le Mans class campaign in North America.
***The Asian Le Mans Series is well-represented in this year’s race, with 11 cars from eight teams entered, including all three of its 2016-17 class champions (Algarve Pro Racing, Tockwith and DH Racing), which received automatic invites.
***Asian LMS Managing Director Cyrille Taesch-Wahlen said he sees an increasing level of interest in Asian-based teams wanting to compete in the French endurance classic. “It’s a trend,” he told Sportscar365. “Talking with the teams, you even have teams entering the Road to Le Mans. They really want to go to Le Mans in the near future. In China, more and more teams have now clearly put Le Mans on their to-do-list and they want to tick the box ASAP.”
Luke Smith, James Newbold and Ryan Myrehn contributed to this report