RED flags and potential heavy rain threatened to curtail Thursday’s second and third qualifying sessions respectively, and in turn put an early end to an enthralling pole dual in both LMP2 and GTE Pro categories.
LMP2 – KCMG shock big guns to take pole
While stoppages and inclement weather are expected at the Circuit de la Sarthe, the shock pole for the Oreca-Nissan KCMG machine of Nico Lappiere, Richard Bradley and Matt Howson was undoubtedly the surprise of the week so far. The inexperienced British pairing and the canny and well versed Frenchman took top spot from under the noses of formidable competition with aplomb.
The fancied G-Drive Ligier of Bird, Rusinov and Canal were the closest challengers as they got to within 0.02s while early contenders Dolan, Evans and Turvey battled to keep their Greaves Motorsport Gibson Nissan in third in class.
Contrary to their LMP1 effort, the Nissan engine performed superbly in LMP2, with the #36 Signatech Alpine of Panciatici, Gommendy and Badey making it a 1-2-3-4 for the Japanese firm. The Ligier HPD of Kévin Estre, Laurens Vanthoor and Chris Cumming split two further Nissans, while there was disappointment for the Dome of past victors Danny Watts, Nick Leventis and Jonny Kane in the Strakka car.
GTE Pro – Comeback miracle for Rees but Corvette out after crash
What an amazing comeback for Brazilian Fernando Rees. Ruled out of last year’s race after a crash in practice, the 30 year-old from Sao Paolo would have been forgiven for returning to the North of France with some trepidation. Instead, he stuck his Aston Martin V8 on pole, beating 2014 GTE Pro winners Bruni, Villander and Fisichella in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari and team-mates Darren Turner, Stefan Mücke and Rob Bell. Team-mates in the #71 car struggled to keep the car on the track as Olivier Berreta twice found the gravel trap, eventually getting toed out of Indianapolis.
But in between the GTE Pro battle will GTE Am pole sitters Mathias Lauda, Pedro Lamy – who came down with chicken pox during the week – and Paul Dalla Lama.
Corvette’s race winning challengers will not take part due to heavy accident damage and a lack of spare chassis. The #63 of Jan Magnussen, Ryan Briscoe and Antonio Garcia had to be withdrawn after Magnussen crashed in the Porsche Curves with an apparent stuck throttle. The Corvette careered into the armco barrier before being jetted back towards the concrete wall where irreparable damage was done.
Porsche’s night in LMP1 may have brought smiles to the Bavarian squad’s faces but GTE Pro class performance brought mixed feelings. Neither the #91 of Bergmeister, Leitz and Christensen or the #92 of Makowiecki, Pilet and Henzler could find enough pace to trouble the leading times and will have to rely on their impressive long race pace and reliability if they are to taste glory on Sunday afternoon.
All to play for in all classes
While qualifying fills the short term headlines of La Maine and other publications, history always has a way of remembering Le Mans legends. All 56 competitors on the grid on Saturday know that getting to the flag on Sunday is the first aim, and that the hare doesn’t always reap the glory.
It’s all to play for!