Saturday 17 June 2017

Le Mans 2017: Notes from Warm Up and qualifying

Reflections on Qualifying

It is always hard to judge but so far this year the circuit and surrounding roads don’t seem to be quite as mad as in previous years. However if you head off into Arnage there are the usual steady parade of exotic, mad and interesting machinery.

Nearly every year Le Mans 24hrs gives us a particularly ‘memorable moment’. This year surely it was Kamui Kobayashi’s qualifying lap in the #7 Toyota TS050 - HYBRID . We caught up with the in-car footage on TV and almost immediately you got the feeling we were watching something a bit special..even by Le Mans’ usual standards. The team had timed it perfectly and all the traffic was safely tucked away behind Kobayashi and he had an empty track ahead. As far as we could see he didn’t need to pause to pass a single car. To say “He went for it” is an understatement. He crossed the line having posted a 3:14.791, a clear 2.337 seconds ahead of his team mates...that is a lifetime at Le Mans. This was the fastest lap ever recorded with the track in its current length since 1971. It was pretty clear that nobody would get near that time so pole position was safely in the hands of Toyota.

Porsche were off the qualifying pace but who knows what they have in mind as a ‘race pace’. One thing is certain and that is Toyota have three cars and Porsche two, so their tactical options should be better. The #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid ended the third session tucked away behind a wall and out of danger. We gather their engineers told Brendon Hartley to switch it off. The commentators suggested that with car still ‘charged up’ the drivers have to jump out and away from it to save getting a thumping great electric shock. This didn’t seem to apply to the marshals!

LMP2 has been a revelation, once again lap records have been wiped out and the general feeling is that the current LMP2 cars are blindingly quick in places that irritate the LMP1 cars. Overall the LMP1 cars are of course quicker by far but there are parts of the track where an LMP2 can quite legitimately be tough to overtake.

The quickest LMP2 was the #26 Oreca 07. They posted a 3:25.352 which was perilously close to the ‘non hybrid’ Bykolles Enso CLM P1/01 time of 3:24.170.  

Not wishing to make too much of a political point about it but Ligier were unhappy about over their ‘Balance of Performance’ issues. Oreca on the other hand were not complaining.. they had ten of their cars on the grid ahead of the leading Ligier. Ligier were also behind Dallara and Alpine. Something doesn’t feel right! As we mentioned this year’s LMP2 cars are far, far quicker than last year and apart from anything else there will be no less than 25 of them out there wanted to share the same bits of track.. should be interesting..

We are assured that modern computer technology combined with sophisticated on board data collection have made the art of ‘sand-bagging’ a thing of the past. It was a strange session with cars out of place and so on, was somebody sand-bagging’?! To use the immortal words of Francis Urquhart in House of Cards “You might very well think that. I couldn't possibly comment”. The Ford Team had been complaining fairly consistently but if you were ‘sand-bagging’ scattering your four cars fairly randomly across the grid might not be the answer. Ferrari, who apparently were used to set the performance bench mark, were also at the back until the last few minutes of qualifying when the #51 Ferrari 488 GTE went up to second in class after 18 laps with their team mates behind the Aston but close behind.

Porsche appeared to be doomed and getting nowhere with their much heralded new 911 RSR 991. But the BoP ( Balance of Peformance) gods smiled on them and 8kgs of weight were taken away. It was all a bit weird. It isn’t every day that we get the chance to give the ACO circuit workers a pat on the back but when the #33 Ligier JSP217 driven by Erik Maris ‘lost it’ coming out of the first chicane he took on the Armco in a big way, and lost. He was fine … but the Armco wasn’t! Out came the red flags and in came the repair team. A large truck loaded with stuff, a digger type vehicle a flurry of safety and maintenance vehicles plus an army of workers. Fifty one minutes later the session restarted with a huge chunk of brand new Armco and posts in place. They worked hard and fast.

According to our professional weather man (or so he tells us) says there is zero chance of rain but maybe the odd cloud. So, according to Pierre Fillon President of The ACO this will be the first ”All dry” weekend  since 2000. You guys out in the camping areas take care.

Jock Simpson.

Track events of Warm-Up

Green flag 09:00

#39 Guibbert Z6 stopped then restarted  9:03 am
#28 Vaxiviere fastest 3:30.986 9:09 am
#17 Lafargue hit barrier before going into gravel in Porsche curves 9:16 am
P1 cars just doing out-laps and returning to pitlane
#17 Lafargue Z32 Moving again and returning to pits
#39 Guibbert returned to pits after very slow lap 9:21 am
#17 Lafargue Pitlane - now in pits 9:22 am
All cars have set a time, but not all have done flying laps 9:22
#8 TOYOTA Sébastien BUEMI 3:21.502 9:23 am
20 minutes remain
#50 Brandela at Ford - spin and continue 9:26 am
#9 TOYOTA  LOPEZ straight on at 2nd chicane
#1 Porsche Tandy 3:20.120 9:32 am
10 minutes remain
#2 Porsche Bamber hands over to Hartley 9:38 am
#69 Ford GT Briscoe 3:51.789 fastest in GTE Pro
4 minutes remain
#88 Porsche Bachler 3:56.608 9:43 am
#86 Porsche Barker 3:56.532 quickest GTE Am
1 minute remains
#7 Toyota  Kamui KOBAYASHI 3:18.661 9:45 a
#8 Toyota of Kazuki NAKAJIMA  3:16.308 9:46 am
#26 G-Drive fastest P2 3:27.096 9:50 am
#69 Ford GT fastest in GTE Pro 3:51.789
#83 Ferrari fastest in GTE Am 3:55.575

Chequered Flag at 9:45