Le Mans Test Day

Toyota have lead the way in the official Le Mans test day ahead of the 85th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Setting a lap time that was faster than the pole position time for last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota declared a pace that Porsche could not contend with. Last year’s LMP2 class champions Signatech Alpine were on top of things in their respective class, ending both the morning session and the day with the fastest LMP2 time. Returning to the WEC solely for Le Mans, Chevrolet made their mark by taking the fastest time in LM GTE Pro. Proton Racing #77 Porsche took the fastest lap in the Am class before lunch, with Aston Martin finishing the day on top of the class.

Coming off the back of a highly-competitive six hour of Spa-Francorchamps, Kazuki Nakajima reflected the same form he showed last month claiming the fastest time of the morning session. His 3:20.778 lap time was an impressive 1.5 seconds faster than the time set by Sebastien Buemi in the sister #7 car. Toyota locked out the top three, with Jose Maria Lopez setting a 3:22.006 in the #9 – a good effort in his debut around the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Timo Bernard had had the #2 Porsche comfortably second during the first four-hour session, but the last half an hour of fast laps from Toyota saw the Porsche drop to fourth, setting a fastest time of 3:23.089, 2.3 seconds off the pace of the fastest Toyota. Porsche did not complete any fast laps at the end of the session, showing they appeared to be on a different programme to Toyota. Andre Lotterer’s time was only half a tenth off of Bernhard’s, showing the Porsches appear to be equally matched.

In the afternoon session Toyota continued to steal the show. Kamui Kobayashi put the championship leading #7 Toyota fastest with a 3:18.132, a time that was over 1.5 seconds faster than Neel Jani’s 2016 pole time for the 24-hour event. The Toyota’s, once again, locked out the top three positions whilst Porsche ended the day 3.3 seconds off the fastest lap time, but only 0.4 seconds off third-placed #9 Toyota. The #2 Porsche lost time in the afternoon session as the engine was changed on the 919 Hybrid.

The Signatech Alpine #35 was the car to beat in LMP2 as it lead the way at the end of both test sessions. Andre Negrao put the ORECA-Gibson 07 fastest at the end of the morning session with the first LMP2 time to break the 3m30s barrier: a 3:29.809. His teammate, Nelson Panciatici, reiterated what Negrao had performed in the morning’s four-hour session by ending the day with the fastest time of 3:28.146. This gave him a seven-tenth advantage over Jean-Eric Vergne in the #24 CEFC Manor TDS Racing, who ended the day second fastest in class.

In the morning, it was the #13 Vaillante Rebellion Racing that finished second fastest in the LMP2 class. Mathias Beche was nearly beaten to second in class by the ELMS-entry Graff car. Only 0.011 seconds kept Beche ahead of Richard Bradley as the chequered flag fell.

It does seem, from the final test day times, that the ORECA-chassis running LMP2 cars may have an advantage over any other chassis. The top fourteen cars in class were all ORECA-Gibsons when the chequered flag ended the day. However, all of the cars are a lot faster this year. The extra 100bhp that the LMP2 cars have this year have already seen them setting lap times seven seconds faster than they were twelve months ago.

Jan Magnussen returned Chevrolet to WEC racing with intent as he took the fastest lap time of the morning session in LM GTE Pro. It was a close fight between the #63 and the #91 Porsche for fastest lap time with 0.027 seconds separating Magnussen and Patrick Pilet at the end of the first four-hours testing. The sister Chevrolet rounded off the top three half a second down on the fastest pair.

The intention of Chevrolet is clear for this blue-ribboned event as they topped the afternoon session competitively. Oliver Gavin made it a Chevrolet leading a Porsche in the #64 with a lap time of 3:54.701. The #64 crew started the afternoon session with an engine change and was able to lead the class by just over two-tenths on the #91 Porsche.

Porsche took honours in LM GTE Am at the end of the morning session with the #77 Proton Racing Porsche leading the class with a 3:59.117. The time, set by Matteo Carioli, was a tenth up on second-fastest #83 AF Corse-run DH Racing Ferrari. In the afternoon session, however, it was Aston Martin on top, with Pedro Lamy setting the pace with a 3:58.250 in the #98. The Am field looks like it will be as close as it has been all season when the grid takes to the 24-hour endurance race in a fortnight’s time.

The afternoon session was ended twelve minutes early as there was dropped oil on track. It is unknown which car lost the liquid out on circuit.