High ambitions in all teams.
On Wednesday, June 7, the audience of the 24 Hours of Le Mans race week could watch the participants perform on the track three times: Beside two Free Practices, the Qualifying for the endurance race also took place. During the latter, the starting grid spots of the vehicles were decided – the Top 8 of each class qualified for the Hyperpole on the following day.
The conditions for training and qualifying were definitely ideal: The sun above the racetrack heated Le Mans and the asphalt up at over 27° Celsius, at least offering the tires ideal temperatures. Occasionally, a gentle breeze blew over the wide plains around the track and whirled some dust into the air. A relevant point for the drivers, as sand and dust make the track slippery. Some moments before the training would start, a French Army helicopter thundered above the track, practicing for the race weekend.
Throughout an early phase of the training, Laurens Vanthoor reached the fourth spot of the overall ranking with the Porsche 963 #6. Meanwhile, Michael Christensen started in the #5 and Nick Tandy in the #75. At the same time, the Porsche Customer Racing teams proved their mettle in the GTE Am class: The GR Racing Team was constantly pushing forward through the field with the Porsche 911 RSR #86. Proton Competition, Iron Lynx and Project 1 - AO were also consistently in and around the Top 10.
Race control also tested various situations: Full Course Yellow phases were announced on short notice. Sadly, Full Course Red also had to be implemented: A vehicle of the GTE Am class crashed against the barrier and rolled back onto the track. The most following cars managed to evade the stranded car, but a LMP2 vehicle rammed into it. The track was closed completely for 30 minutes.
After the conclusion of the race, one of the Porsche 963 vehicles managed to constantly remain on fourth spot, while the other two were also among the Top 10. The Hertz Team JOTA Porsche 963 #38 finished the first training on 14th spot after showing some good lap times. Beside them, the other Porsche Customer Racing Teams also performed well in the first practice session: five of the eight vehicles came up among the Top 10 of the GTE Am class.
Stop and go during the Qualifying.
As dusk began to close in on Wednesday evening, the participating teams lined up at 7 p.m. for the Qualifying. During this, the focus is on the best lap time with which the teams secure the best starting spots.
After about 10 minutes of runtime, Frédéric Makowiecki managed to score the third-best lap time of 3:27.23 minutes in the Porsche 963 #5. Just a few moments later, a Full Course Red was announced due to a LMP2 car having an accident. At this point, Kévin Estre in the #6 was on 11th spot of the overall ranking, followed by the Hertz Team JOTA vehicle. The number #75 was piloted by Felipe Nasr on 14th spot.
In the GTE Am class, the Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR #16 was in the lead. Also among the Top 8: The number 56 belonging to Project 1 - AO was on seventh spot, while the Iron Lynx with the number 60 had good chances from the ninth spot.
The track was released once again for the Qualifying after about ten minutes, but the Porsche Penske Motorsport number 6 vehicle remained in the pit. At the same time, the Frenchman Frédéric Makowiecki attempted to improve his lap time from the previous Full Course Green. He managed to underbid his own time by almost a whole second and his colleague Felipe Nasr raced an even faster time in the #75, managing to lap at 3:26.589 minutes. Shortly after, another Full Course Red slowed down the grid again. At that point, the #75 was on third spot and #5 on fourth. The GTE Am class remained unchanged.
With close to 40 minutes of time remaining on the Qualifying clock, race control lifted the Full Course Red. The Top Five Hypercar vehicles left the pit with a bit of a delay – the Porsche 963 #5 with Frédéric Makowiecki piloting it.
After roughly 27 minutes runtime, the Porsche 911 RSR #77 spun out of a curve and crashed against the barrier with its rear. Still, the Porsche driver Julien Andlauer managed to bring it back into the pit with its tail trim fluttering in the wind. In the meantime, Kévin Estre in the number six had returned to the track and immediately achieved a lap time of 3:26.900 minutes. The Porsche 963 #5 also raced its new best laptime, moving Frédéric Makowiecki up to the second spot of the overall ranking at this point.
Throughout the remainder of the Qualifying, Frédéric Makowiecki dropped onto third spot. Both Ferrari cars upped the ante and raced their own personal best laps. With so little time left in the Qualifying, a battle to underbid the lap times of the opponents. But despite great laptimes, even after the Qualifying things can go awry: The two best laps of the Porsche 963 #75 were subsequently discarded.
Two of the three works cars made it into the hyperpole, although we were biting our nails with our number 75 car after the two fastest lap times were thrown out.
Meanwhile in the GTE Am class, the ranking was changed up on a major scale, leaving only the Iron Lynx Porsche 911 RSR with a chance for the Hyperpole participation. Particularly disappointing: Their team colleagues, the Iron Dames in the number 85 showed great improvement in their laptimes throughout the Qualifying, but skidded onto the sandy run-out area. Alessio Picariello in the Iron Lynx Porsche also lost his spot among the Top eight, mere seconds before the Qualifying time ran out.
After the Qualifying came to a close, both Porsche 963 #5 and #75 had scored a spot in the Hyperpole. This event will take place on Thursday, June 8, at 8 p.m. CEST.