Kazuki Nakajima places the #7 Toyota on pole position for this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans with a lap time of 3:21.789. Equally impressive was Porsche, with the 919 hybrids qualifying second with the #14 entry piloted by Neel Jani whilst Toyota’s #8 TSO40 starts third. Fourth goes to the #20 Porsche 919 Hybrid with the Audi R18 Etron Quattro’s start 5th, 6th and 7th.
However, the closing stages of the final session were interrupted by the commencement of a Le Mans slow zone to clear the issue caused by the Murphy Prototypes Oreca 03 going off at Indianapolis. It is perhaps possible that the others had more to offer in what would have been a highly climatic close to qualifications, however a huge congratulations to Toyota, Kazuki Nakajima, Alex Wurz and Stéphane Sarrazin.
The “Slow Zone” for those unfamiliar is a concept adopted by the ACO at this year’s race and is intended to avoid the safety car being activated for minor on track incidents. The idea is that through the zone selected everyone drives at 60kph and maintains on track position. Once the zone of the track is clear, the cars then immediately reaccelerate to racing speeds, without having to neutralise the entire track. The safety car will be used still in the event of a major incident. A very similar concept has for the past couple of years been a feature of the Dubai 24, and has been successfully implemented in that event.
In LMP2, The debut of the Ligier JS P2 Nissan in competition was a highly successful one, with ELMS team Thiriet by TDS racing taking the class pole, whilst Jota Sport’s Zytek Z11 SN and Oak Racing’s Ligier JS-P2 HPD complete the top three in class.
A fantastic debut for the next generation of P2 prototypes and with Honda HPD announcing a new P2 car for next year a few weeks ago in America, Oreca already announcing it’s new P2 challenger and yesterday the news that Zytek will build a new challenger, the future of LMP2 chassis competition is looking very positive over the next few seasons.
In GTE, The battle in PRO is very tight between the manufacturers. The AF Corse Ferrari managed to secure class pole with the #51 entry, while Corvette Racings #73 follows in second and Aston Martin Racings #97 positions third. It makes for an exciting prospect come race day with the manufacturers being so close. The Porsche Team Manthey entrants qualified 6th and 7th in class and in GTE Am, AF Corse, with Sam Bird driving on his debut at Le Mans, took the class pole position honours.
The Nissan ZEOD managed to run the Mulsanne straight on electric power at 300kph which was a huge achievement by the team. The reliability is still somewhat questionable for the car, but given the experimental nature of the design, I see that pace as an achievement.
Unfortunately today also brought its share of red flags and issues with a number of cars heading off track, particularly in the second qualifying session.
The AF Corse #71 entrant was among these with James Calado at the wheel. James went to hospital for precautionary checks and will be replaced by Pierre Kaffer in the race. The car chassis will also require a replacement.
Audi Sport’s #1 had a couple of misfortunes in qualifying two with Di Grassi spinning and damaging the front of the Audi, the car was then involved in an incident with the Pegasus Morgan LMP2 which collided hard in the wall whilst taking avoiding action of the slow Audi at the end of the Porsche curves.
The driver of the Pegasus Racing entry is ok, although the car was not repairable within the qualifying sessions. The #79 Prospeed Porsche entry also had a large accident and will require substantial repairs before the race.
Finally the #99 Craft-Bamboo Aston Martin Racing entry, which had a collision late in yesterday’s first qualifying session, has officially withdrawn from the race bringing the number of starters including the Garage 56 entry down to 54.