Thursday 14 June 2018

Le Mans: Nakajima takes provisional pole for Toyota

Kazuki Nakajima was the fastest man on track yesterday evening in his #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid, claiming provisional pole position after the first of three qualifying sessions.  The Japanese driver set a quickest time of 3.17.270, just over 0.1 seconds faster than last year’s pole sitter Kamui Kobayashi in the #7 Toyota. 

With the difference between the hybrids and fastest non-hybrid LMP1 under a second in yesterday’s practice session, it seemed that the Rebellions might be reasonable close to the Toyota’s. Qualifying denied all hope for a somewhat close battle though.  Stéphane Sarrazin was “best of the rest” in his #17 SMP Racing BR1 but already 2.213 seconds behind Nakajima in 3.19.483. Bruno Senna in the #1 Rebellion R13 was second fastest in the non Hybrid cars, giving in 0.179 seconds to the BR1. 

SMP Racing’s #17 BR1 was seventh fastest with Egor Orudhzev at the wheel, in front of the #11 SMP Racing BR1 and the #4 ByKolles Enso CLMP1/01. The ByKolles clocked off a 3.22.505 but lost all of its fastest laps due to “exceeded instantaneous fuel flow limit”, as did the #17 SMP Racing.  The Toyota #8 also saw several laptimes deleted; exceeding the fuel/lap quantity limit.   

Both Ginetta’s are closing the order in LMP1, setting lap times in the middle of the LMP2 class and over 13 seconds adrift from pole position. Electrical gremlins halted Ginetta’s progress during both of yesterday’s sessions, and forced the team to an engine swap between sessions in the #6 car. 

In LMP2 it’s the #48 IDEC Sport of Paul Loup Chatin which was quickest overall last night in a record setting laptime of 3.24.956, almost half a second faster than last year’s pole time. Chatin was 0.284 seconds faster than Loïc Duval in the #28 TDS Racing Oreca 07 who was closely followed by Jean-Eric Vergne in the #26 G-Drive. Oreca once again dominated the LMP1 class, claiming all top five positions after the first qualifying session.  The #31 Dragonspeed which saw its tracktime decimated after damaging its front early in the session, and #36 Signatech Alpine rounded out the top 5. 

“Best of the rest” was Filipe Albuquerque in the #22 United Autosports Ligier in 3.26.772, 1.8 seconds off the pace of the quickest Ligier. The #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing of Jazeman Jafaar went seventh fastest. Felipe Nasr in the #47 Cetilar Villorba Corse Dallara set the eight fastest - and fastest Dallara - time in 3.27.993.  

After leaving LMP1 at the end of last season, Porsche is now aiming for succes in the GTE Pro class in the second season of their not-to-be-called mid engined 911 RSR. In both of yesterday’s sessions, the Porsches were on top of the timetables.  Gimmi Bruni outpaced everyone in the qualifying session with a staggering lap record of 3.47.504, over three seconds faster than last year’s pole time. Even more impressive was that he set that time at the start of the session in only one of two flying laps before parking his #91 Porsche in the kitty litter at Dunlop curve.   

Michael Christensen was second quickest in the #92 Porsche in 3.49.097, still faster than las year’s pole time but over half a second adrift from Bruni’s lap. Ford took third and fourth place with Olivier Pla quickest in the #66 GT (3.49.181) followed by Dirk Müller in the #68.  Alessandro Pier Guidi in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari set the fifth time, almost 2.5 seconds slower than the #91 Porsche.  

BMW returns to Le Mans in their new M8, and clocked off on ninth and 11th position inbetween Ferrari and Ford.  Antonio Felix Da Costa was the fastest BMW driver with a time of 3.50.579.  Corvette is - as usual - steadily going through their pre Le Mans test programme, finishing 13th and 14th by the end of the qualifying session.  Despite the new BoP, the Astons still are struggling for pace, both new Vantage AMR’s finishing dead last yesterday, just under 5 and over 7 seconds off the pace. 

Dempsey-Proton Racing is leading the GTE Am class with both of its Porsche 911 RSR’s. Matteo Cairoli showing his outright speed again, going round in 3.50.728 in the #88 which was even quicker than the Corvettes in GTE Pro.  Matt Campbell in the #77 Porsche was just over 1.2 seconds slower than the young Italian to take a provisional second sport on the grid.  The top 3 was completed by another Porsche: the #86 Gulf Racing of Ben Barker. 

Giancarlo Fisichella in the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari was the first non Porsche driver on the list in fourth place, 2 seconds slower than Cairoli.  The #56 Team Project 1 Porsche and the #85 Keating Motorsports Ferrari completed the top 7 with the #98 Aston Martin of Pedro Lamy in eight position.  Bad luck for the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin of Salih Yoluc & co who suffered a puncture causing some damage to the car, limiting their track time in the first qualifying session. 

There’s a short list of drivers who still have to complete their 5 obligatory night laps after yesterday’s qualifying: Gimmi Bruni, Richard Lietz and Fred Makowiecki in the #91 Porsche after Bruni parking it into the kitty litter at the Dunlop chicane; Nico Lapierre in the #36 Signatech Alpine; Earl Bamber in the #93 Porsche 911; Olivier Beretta in the #70 MR Racing Ferrari and Renger Van Der Zande in the #10 Dragonspeed BR1. 

Qualifying resumes later today with two 2 hour sessions from 19h to 21h and 22h to midnight.  Rain might be on the forecast so the pole times from yesterday could be the ones that determine the grid for Saturday’s race.  

Text and pictures: Kristof Vermeulen