Toyota GAZOO Racing didn’t even need the final qualifying session Thursday (June 13) to claim overall pole for Saturday’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. Kamui Kobayashi turned in a lap at 155.916 mph during the second session. That held up to win the pole.
Qualifying Practice No. 2
Conditions were nearly perfect during the second session and the Toyotas came out to play. Kobayashi turned in the eventual pole lap on only his second lap on the track. The lap was four-tenths of a second faster than teammate Kazuki Nakajima. SMP Racing’s Mikhail Aleshin was another second back in third, followed by Rebellion Racing’s Neel Jani. Stephane Sarrazin was fifth in the second SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1.
In LMP2, DragonSpeed’s Pastor Maldonado maintained his strong pace from Wednesday night and set the quick time of the session with a lap at 147.616 mph. This lap was one-third of a second faster than Jackie Chan DC Racing’s Stephane Richelmi. TDS Racing’s Matthieu Vaxiviere was third, followed by Racing Team Nederland’s Nyck de Vries. United Autosports’ Filipe Albuquerque was fifth in the Ligier.
GTE-Pro saw Porsche GT Team’s Michael Christensen top the chart with a lap at 132.880 mph. This lap was a mere four-hundredths of a second faster than Corvette Racing’s Antonio Garcia. Gianmaria Bruni in the No. 91 Porsche was third, followed by Patrick Pilet in the No. 93 Porsche. Richard Westbrook in the No. 69 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing IMSA Ford GT was fifth.
GTE-Am was led by Spirit of Race’s Giancarlo Fisichella with a lap at 130.918 mph in his Ferrari. This lap was nearly two-thirds of a second faster than Car Guy Racing’s Come Ledogar. Keating Motorsports’ Jeroen Bleekemolen was third in the Wynn’s Ford GT, followed by the Porsche of Ben Barker. Kessel Racing’s Andrea Piccini was fifth.
Qualifying Practice No. 3
In the final qualifying session, a number of teams (including the Toyotas) focused on getting track time at night. Qualifying practice sessions Nos. 1 and 3 are the only times prior to the race where cars are on-track at night. Every driver must complete three laps at night to be eligible to drive at night during the race.
That said, the Toyotas did not top the chart in the final session. Instead, it was SMP Racing’s Egor Orudzhev that was fastest overall in his BR Engineering BR1-AER with a lap at 155.390 mph. This was a quarter of a second faster than Gustavo Menezes in the No. 3 Rebellion R13. Stoffel Vandoorne in the second SMP Racing entry was third quickest, followed by Andre Lotterer in the No. 1 Rebellion. Jose Maria Lopez in the No. 7 Toyota was fifth quickest, four seconds off the pace while working on race pace.
Things were not great at Rebellion Racing during the session. While Lotterer did time in fourth in the session, the team lost the AER engine in their Rebellion R13. The failure resulted in a red flag to clean up the track and retrieve the No. 1, which came to a stop just after the Mulsanne corner.
The LMP2 class was a duel right down to the final laps of the session. At the end of the session, it was GRAFF Racing’s No. 39 ORECA 07-Gibson with former Champ Car racer Tristan Gommendy at the wheel that was fastest with a lap at 148.636 mph. However, teammate Vincent Capillaire ran through a light that sends a driver to the weighbridge in the pit lane (scroll to Decision No. 75). The ACO fined Capillaire 1000 Euros and deleted all the times from the car up to that point in the session. This included what would have been the pole-winning lap. Since the team did not go back out after the infraction, they have no time for the final session. However, they will start 14th in class (22nd overall) based on their time from the second session.
As a result of the penalty, the fastest lap of the session and class pole fell to TDS Racing’s Loic Duval, who turned in a lap at 148.439 mph. The lap was three-tenths of a second faster than Maldonado and a half-second faster than Signatech Alpine Matmut’s Nicolas Lapierre. Idec Sport’s Paul-Loup Chatin was fourth in class, followed by G-Drive Racing’s Jean-Eric Vergne. Albuquerque was fastest of the non-ORECA 07s in sixth.
GTE-Pro saw Aston Martin Racing’s Marco Sorensen win the class pole with a lap at 133.689 mph, a new class record for Le Mans. The lap was one-ninth of a second faster than Harry Tincknell‘s Ford. Garcia was once again third quickest, followed by Nick Tandy in the No. 93 Porsche and BMW’s Augusto Farfus.
GTE-Am saw Dempsey-Proton Racing take the top two spots, a feat that greatly pleased team co-owner Patrick Dempsey. Matteo Cairoli claimed the class pole in the No. 88 Porsche with a lap at 131.703 mph,. This lap was two-tenths of a second faster than Matt Campbell in the No. 77. Thomas Preining in the Gulf Racing No. 86 made it a Porsche 1-2-3 in class. JMW Motorsport’s Jeff Segal qualified fourth in his Ferrari, while Vincent Abril in the Proton Competition Porsche was fifth.
Aston Martin Racing will give the previous generation V8-powered Vantage a proper send-off Saturday. Unfortunately, that will be somewhat hampered because Pedro Lamy crashed the car at Arnage halfway through the session. The team spent 25 minutes in the garage making repairs before rejoining. Lamy’s best lap prior to the crash was 11th quickest.
One car, the No. 99 Porsche for Dempsey-Proton Racing, failed to set a time in any of the three sessions. This was because Tracy Krohn had a big crash on the Mulsanne straight during Free Practice on Wednesday. Krohn spent Wednesday night in the hospital before being released. However, he has not been cleared to race. As a result, the team has been forced to withdraw from the race.
Overall, Kobayashi and Nakajima’s times from session No. 2 will comprise the front row, followed by SMP Racing’s No. 17 thanks to Orudzhev’s lap on Thursday night. Rebellion Racing’s No. 3 will start fourth, followed by SMP Racing’s No. 11. The No. 1 Rebellion will start sixth. These six cars are separated by less than a second and a half. Last year, the two Toyotas on the front row were separated by two seconds and it was more than four seconds from pole to the first non-hybrid. This year’s race should be much closer than last year, but reliability will determine who will prevail.
The teams have a morning warm-up Saturday morning that will serve as a shakedown. Coverage of the warm-up starts at 2:45 a.m. ET on Motor Trend OnDemand. With the withdrawal of Dempsey-Proton Racing’s No. 99 Porsche, 61 cars will be on the grid for the race, which is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. The whole race will air live on Motor Trend. Coverage begins at 8 a.m. Saturday morning and will run to 9:30 a.m. Sunday.