The general expectation was that times were going to be quick this year at Le Mans, especially in the LMP2 class where teams have roughly 100 extra horsepower to play with. All-time records were not necessarily expected, but that is what happened.
Toyota GAZOO Racing’s Kamui Kobayashi entered Thursday as the provisional pole-sitter after being fastest in Qualifying Practice No. 1. For Qualifying Practice No. 2, Kobayashi kicked it up a notch. On the second of his three laps in the session, Kobayashi turned in a lap of 194.791 seconds (156.519 mph). That lap held up through the entire third session to take the overall pole for Saturday’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. It is the fastest lap ever turned in at Le Mans, including those turned in before the chicanes were added on the Mulsanne Straight.
Unilke the first session on Wednesday night, this was not exactly close. Kobayashi was 2.337 seconds faster than Kazuki Nakajima in the No. 8 Toyota. Porsche LMP Team’s Neel Jani was another tenth of a second further back in third, followed by Timo Bernhard in the No. 2 Porsche.
For the No. 2 Porsche, things weren’t all great. During Qualifying Practice No. 3, the car lost power with Brendon Hartley driving. Hartley drove it solely on electric power in order to try to get it back to the pits, but the car came to a halt at Indianapolis, ending his session.
In LMP2, it was a back and forth affair. During his fifth lap in Qualifying Practice No. 3, G-Drive Racing’s Alex Lynn turned in a lap of 205.352 seconds (148.469 mph) to win the LMP2 pole. The pole lap was 11.3 seconds faster than the class pole last year.
Lynn’s lap was two-tenths of a second faster than CEFC Manor TRS Racing’s Vitaly Petrov in second, who turned in his lap during Qualifying Practice No. 2. Jackie Chan DC Racing’s Ho-Pin Tung will start third in class, followed by Vaillante Rebellion’s No. 31 for Bruno Senna. Mathias Beche in the No. 13 from Vaillante Rebellion will start fifth in class.
The ORECA 07 domination continued in qualifying. The top nine cars in LMP2 were either ORECA 07s or the rebadged Alpine A470.
Eurasia Motorsport was unable to take part in the final qualifying session Thursday after Erik Maris crashed the No. 33 Ligier JS P2-Gibson. Maris was ok, but the team has lots of repairs ahead of them.
During the third session, Nigel Moore spun out the Tockwith Motorsports Ligier in the Porsche Curves. Moore didn’t hit anything, but that’s only because he spun where improvements had been made to the track ahead of the race weekend. Last year, Moore would have hit the wall there. This year, he was able to drive away. Moore will start 21st in class, 7.2 seconds off the class pole.
In GTE-Pro, the final session saw a back and forth affair between the various manufacturers. Once the dust cleared, it was Aston Martin Racing’s Darren Turner who put his No. 97 Aston Martin Vantage on the class pole. Turner’s lap of 230.837 seconds (132.078 mph) is almost three-tenths of a second faster than last year’s pole.
Turner’s lap was two-tenths of a second faster than the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado. Richie Stanaway in the No. 95 Aston Martin was only one-hundredth of a second slower than Calado in third. AF Corse’s Sam Bird will start fourth in class, while Ryan Briscoe was the fastest of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship regulars in fifth.
GTE-Am had a couple of incidents during the final qualifying session. First, Francesco Castellacci spun and hit the tires in the Dunlop Chicane early on. He was able to continue after being pulled out of the gravel, but spent 20 minutes trying to get back to the pits. Later on, Gulf Racing UK’s Ben Barker went off and hit the tires at Indianapolis, causing another Slow Zone.
During the final session, the times dropped repeatedly. By the end of the session, Larbre Competition’s Fernando Rees was on top of the charts with a lap of 232.843 seconds (130.940 mph) in the team’s Chevrolet Corvette C7.R Art Car. Rees’ lap was four-tenths of a second faster than Aston Martin Racing’s Pedro Lamy. Defending class champion Townsend Bell will start third in class, followed by Dempsey-Proton Racing’s Matteo Cairoli. Spirit of Race’s Marco Cioci will start fifth in class.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. EDT on Saturday. TV Coverage begins at 8:30 a.m. on FOX Sports 1 and will switch between that network, FOX Sports 2 and a period exclusive to FOX Sports GO.