Day One of track action for the 24 Hours of Le Mans saw two sessions, a free practice session in the daylight hours, and the first of three sessions for qualifying after the sun had set. Weather-wise, the practice session saw rainfall early, and a drying track for much of the session before the rain returned later on in the session.
The events of today haven’t really been that unexpected. Porsche was clearly the quickest of the LMP1 teams, the most surprising point being just how fast in qualifying, with the #18 setting a 3:16 lap early in the session. It was a staggering laptime. To put it into perspective, the fastest lap at Le Mans on this configuration previously was Sarrazin in the Peugeot 908 HDI FAP in 2008, at 3:18.313.
It all comes on a day when the ACO began announcing a desire to increase the lap times at La Sarthe back towards a 3:20 in time for next year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, potentially making this the last time that the record will be broken for the foreseeable future.
Regarding that aim by the FIA/ACO, I’m not against it, personally, with the target being 3:20. I know speed reduction is an issue people have with motorsport and a part of me does want the lap times to continue to be broken. However I can understand why the ACO want to take these measures, given the huge pace of development this generation of LMP1 has encountered, the past twelve months alone. The overall lap record at Le Mans, set in 1971 was a 3.13.9 by Pedro Rodriguez. It’s a compromise now of whether the speeds are reduced, particularly in terms of corner speeds in the cars, or the circuit is altered beyond recognition to accommodate these cars, which is probably the long term alternative.
I know Le Mans gets marginally safer every year, with some extra run off implemented or tarmac instead of gravel, and of course that is the correct response. However, whilst adding gravel and tarmac run-offs is right and fine, perhaps one day losing the fundamental layout of Le Mans is something I would rather not happen, Therefore, I have no issues with them reducing the speeds of the cars back towards levels we saw just a couple of years ago.
The other part of it of course, is whilst laptimes can be controlled, it’s the old F1 way of the rulemakers slowing down the cars, and the engineers finding new loopholes to increase the speed back again. I don’t think many people would argue that is a bad thing to happen for the innovative-side of sportscar. It also set the effective order going forwards towards the second and third qualifying two sessions, with Porsche holding positions 1-3, Audi behind, though clearly geared more towards race pace, then the Toyota’s. It’s all very uniformed in the order right now. Audi had a series of spins in qualifying, all low speed, on entry to the first chicane on the Mulsanne, which begs a few questions: was the track was slippery with oil being laid from other cars in places? It’s most plausible that was a reason.
Nissan had a mixed day, car #23 was 12th overall, ahead of all except one of the LMP2 runners, however somewhat behind Rebellion Racing. It has to be remembered, however, that these Nissan’s are effectively running a 500HP 3.0 V8 in a car that weighs 880KG’s, and it is carrying the weight of hybrid system, which is disengaged.
In LMP2, KCMG’s Oreca 05 took the fastest time, which is a vast improvement from the team’s fortunes this morning when their car stopped on track in the opening minutes of practice bringing out a red flag. Don’t worry too much about that red flag, safety cars aren’t active in practice, so it’s just a way of neutralising the session for recovery.
Murphy Prototypes had a fairly large accident which brought out a prolonged red flag late in the practice session at the Porsche Curves. The car was fairly heavily damaged, but driver Mark Paterson was fine, and the team did fantastic work of rebuilding the car in time for qualifying.
In the GTE Ranks, Aston Martin had a fantastic opening qualifying session, finishing top of both classes. Interestingly, both the Pro and Am cars were the fastest two of the session overall of the GT entrants. In fact, the top four GT entrants overall where Aston Martin Racing entrants, a dominant showing by the team. Corvette Racing was the nearest rival finishing fifth and sixth on the timesheets following the opening qualifying session. A number of cars during the qualifying session were pinged for track limits, something the race officials appear to be highly enforcing this year. In my opinion, this is a good direction. It’s just interesting in a qualifying session as intense as Le Mans to see so many cars having times deleted. Finally, a red flag was also shown in qualifying for Gaeton Paletou, driver of the Greaves Motorsport entered Gibson in LMP2. The driver was reported to be ok whilst the car and the barrier required repairs.
Overall, it was a strong day at Le Mans. There were some frustrations with weather and small mistakes bringing out yellow flags, but an enjoyable start to Le Mans 2015 nonetheless.