2016 24 Hours of Le Mans – Porsche on top in first qualifying
With rain in the forecast for today’s two qualifying sessions, Neel Jani may well have repeated his 2015 heroics and secured pole position for Porsche at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in Wednesday night’s first qualifying session.
The two-hour session was interrupted by a number of slow zones (and even a red flag) creating a very congested track. The Swiss racer’s lap of 3m19.733s in the no. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid he shares with Marc Lieb and home hero, Romain Dumas was set on just the car’s third lap, before traffic became a major issue.
Despite this, backmarkers still played a part, Jani explaining after the session that “there is a lot more possible”. This was partially shown in the no. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid’s ideal lap time.
Timo Bernhard eventually had to settle for second in the session, the German’s best lap a 3m20.203s. However, if the reigning World Champion (alongside teammates, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley) had strung his best sectors together that time would have been a 3m19.418s.
Porsche will be happy with its pace however as both 919 Hybrids finished the session over a second faster than nearest challengers, the Toyota TS050s while the two Audi R18 e-tron quattros couldn’t break under the 3m22s barrier.
The Weissach team’s pace – just three seconds slower than Jani’s record-breaking 2015 pole lap – is even more impressive when considered that, on top of the traffic, the LMP1 contenders this year are having to use seven per cent less energy per lap of the Circuit de la Sarthe.
In the GTE classes, Porsche will be more disappointed with its pace especially as it looks to be predominantly dictated by an overly favourable Balance of Performance handed to the new cars from Ford and Ferrari.
Frédéric Makowiecki was the fastest of the GTE-Pro class 911 RSRs in the no. 92 Porsche Motorsport entry he shares with Earl Bamber and Jörg Bergmeister, however the Frenchman’s lap of 3m54.918s (good enough for class pole last year) was only the eighth fastest lap behind all four Ford GTs and the Ferrari 488 trio.
Split by the no. 95 Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Nick Tandy was next up in the no. 91 Porsche 911 RSR with a lap of 3m55.332s but Porsche, Aston Martin and Corvette will all be questioning why the Fords and Ferraris are so much quicker in a class where BoP is meant to equalise all the entrys.
The leading Ford GT – the no. 68 machine – set a provisional pole time of 3m51.185s (a pace only seen in the final days of GT1 in 2008) while the slowest Ferrari was 1.991 seconds further back. Both manufacturers were given BoP breaks after the Le Mans test day (where the field was much closer).
The gap between that 488 GTE and the best of the rest – the no. 92 Porsche – however was a huge 1.742s, unusual in a class where the whole field is normally covered by a similar margin.
Porsche Motorsport boss, Dr Frank-Steffan Walliser had “no explanation for the extreme differences in the times” but suggested “it should give one or two people food for thought” in a pragmatic to the ACO’s evident BoP problems which may or may not be addressed in time for the race on Saturday.
Qualifying continues today with two further two-hour sessions (at 19:00 and 22:00 CET respectively). Total 911.com will bring you all the news tomorrow morning in our motorsport section.