PORSCHE dominated qualifying for the 83rd edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, securing a 1-2-3 and their first pole position for 27 years. Switzerland’s Neel Jani’s second flying in Wednesday’s opening session proved not only to be the pole time, but the fastest ever lap around the 13km Circuit de la Sarthe.
And with the ACO’s plans to reduce the speeds of LMP1 machines from 2016 onward, this historic feat is likely to remain intact for eternity.
LMP2 pole was won by the KCMG Oreca run car of Nicolas Lappiere and British team-mates Richard Bradley and Matthew Howson, sensationally beating 2014 class winners Jota Motorsport (Mitch Evans, Simon Dolan and Oliver Turvey) to top spot. Strakka’s comeback after missing last year’s edition progressed but Danny Watts, Nick Leventis and Jonny Kane failed to challenge the front runners.
GTE Pro served up a mix of emotions. Ecstasy was the port of call for Aston Martin as they secured the pole but Corvette’s chances in the enduro were dealt a harsh blow as the #63 of Jan Magnussen, Ryan Briscoe and Antonio Garcia was withdrawn with crash damage after Magnussen acquainted himself with the Porsche Curve’s barriers in the second session.
LMP1 – Jani strikes early for record pole
It may not have been much of a surprise that Porsche won the pole, but the way that Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas achieved it raised eyebrows considerably. On just Jani’s second lap, the Swiss managed the now famous 3’16.887 time at an average speed of 154.846 mph; a staggering feat.
The closest anyone would get in the remaining sessions were, naturally the other three Porsche 919 Hybrids. The #17 car of Webber, Bernhard and Hartley got to within 0.8s of their #18 team-mates, while the sister #19 of Hülkenberg, Tandy and Bamber settled for an impressive 3rd fastest, some two seconds further back.
“It feels good, very good,” Jani told Motorsport.com after the final session. “The team have done a brilliant job with giving us a phenomenal car for qualifying. Now though we look to the race which is the most important thing. This pole will feel great for a few hours but the important work starts now for the race on Saturday.”
Audi admitted that while they had attempted to fight for pole in the first of the three qualifying sessions, it accepted there was little to no chance of beating the imperious Porsches by nightfall on Thursday. Instead, there three cars shifted focus to setting up their cars for the race. The leading challenger to Porsche lay in the hands of the #8 of di Grassi, Jarvis and Duval – the latter returning after his mammoth practice smash in 2014, which ruled him out of the race.
Behind them came the #7 three time winners of André Lotterer, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer who trailed over 3.5s adrift of Jani’s time and the #9 of Albuquerque, Bonanomi and Rast.
Toyota have struggled all year with a car that simply lacks the overall pace and torque of their German opponents in front. This trend continued throughout practice and qualifying and ended up over 6 seconds down of the overall fastest, and 2.5s on the slowest Audi. The #2 of Alexander Würz, Mike Conway and Stéphane Sarrazin heads the reigning WEC champion #1 of Davidson, Nakajima and Buemi.
The battle in the ‘half class’ is shaping up nicely with the Rebellion #13 of Heidfeld, Prost and Beche securing top honours ahead of team-mates Kraihamer, Abt and Imperatori. Close behind though is the ByKolles #4 of Monteiro, Trummer and Kaffer who successfully got in front of the Nissans.
Nissan, by their own reckoning have struggled for pace, and even surprised themselves. Having had to rush to get night laps in, ex-Formula One driver Max Chilton slotted his #23 car – shared with Mardenborough and Pla – into 13th place behind team-mates Buncombe, Krumm and Tinknell in the #22. The #21 of Matsuda, Ordoñez and Shulzhitskiy just failed to beat the leading LMP2 car and will line up 15th overall and last in class. However, all three Nissan cars will have to make their way through the field on Saturday, after receiving grid penalties for failing to set times within the 110 per cent ruling.