2017 Le Mans Qualifying

The Toyota #7 crew never lost provisional pole throughout the three qualifying sessions, with Kamui Kobayashi setting a fantastically quick lap in the middle of Qualifying Two to take pole position for the 85th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans by a competitive 2.4 seconds. None of the other LMP1 teams could challenge the 3:14.791 lap time that broke the lap record Neel Jani set in 2015 by just over a second. Kobayashi himself was shocked that the lap time was in the 3m14s; he expected to set a 3m15s or 3m16s.

After a long delay due to having to change the engine after suffering an oil supply issue, the #8 Toyota crew took second on the grid, 2.4 seconds behind the record-breaking lap time. Sebastien Buemi came out at the start of Qualifying Three, having lost most of Qualifying Two to the engine change, and set a 3:17.128, going just a few hundredths of a second faster than Neel Jani’s lap time in the Porsche #1 to take a Toyota one-two. The third Toyota struggled on pace throughout yesterday’s evening sessions. After trying a variety of front noses Nicolas Lapierre could go no faster than a time that put the #9 fifth on the grid.

Porsche made improvements on their Wednesday qualifying times in the early evening session of running yesterday. Jani made an eight-tenth improvement on the sister car, qualified by Timo Bernhard, to move the #1 ahead of the #2 for third on the starting grid. Neither Porsche made improvements in the final qualifying session, but there was trouble for the #2 as the light faded last night. An overheating issue caused Brendon Hartley to pull the #2 Porsche off the track at Indianapolis and spend the remaining hour of the session trying to get the car running again so he could return to the pits. This would not be an issue Porsche would want to be faced with ahead of the 24-hour endurance race.

The #4 ByKolles had been at risk of starting behind some of the LMP2 cars as after Qualifying Two Vitaly Petrov’s provisional LMP2 pole time was faster than the time recorded by the ByKolles. Oliver Webb came out in the final session and improved to a 3:24.170 to place it sixth on the grid.

ORECA Dominates LMP2 Field

After holding onto provisional pole in class at the end of Qualifying One, #28 TDS Racing were unable to stay fastest and the battle for class pole was primarily between CEFC Manor TDS Racing, Vaillante Rebellion and Jackie Chan DC Racing. The #8 Jackie Chan DC Racing finished Qualifying Two on top with a 3:26.776, but that time was to be significantly beaten in Qualifying Three.

Since free practice, the #26 G-Drive Racing team had been lapping around with a low profile, not making too much of an impression in the second qualifying session. However, as the laps began getting faster in the night and Vitaly Petrov was leading the LMP2 field with a 3:25.549, G-Drive set Alex Lynn into the action. He did not disappoint, going two-tenths of a second faster and taking pole position with a 3:25.352.

The non-ORECA running LMP2 cars seem to be at a disadvantage this weekend as the ORECA 07 chassis has been competitively superior to the other chassis all week. The top nine in qualifying were locked out by ORECA-running teams, with the #27 SMP Racing being the first of the non-ORECAs in tenths. The time set by the #27 was a 3:27.782, showing a deficit of 2.5 seconds to the fastest ORECA machine.

There were many incidents with the LMP2 cars in yesterday evening’s running, with the #33 Eurasia Motorsports having a big shunt at the first chicane on the Mulsanne Straight – Forza Motorsport Chicane. The Armco barriers did their job at deflecting the energy and making sure Erik Maris was able to walk away from the incident unscathed, but this lead to a 50-minute delay in the session as extensive barrier repairs took place.

The other place of incident seemed to be Tertre Rouge. A few of the LMP2s got a wheel wide on the grass on entry of the corner, meaning that they had to correct the mistake to not end up in the gravel run off. The #28 TDS Racing machine was the car with the least amount of luck when making a mistake through this corner. Spinning the car, the TDS clipped the Armco barrier and spun into the gravel trap, causing damage to the barrier and bringing a ten-minute early end to Qualifying Two.

Aston Martin Pro Battle Closer than Expected

Aston Martin dominated both Qualifying One and Two in the Pro class and the Am class, and looked like they could only challenge themselves. The #95 and #97 Aston Martin Racing cars swapped provisional pole times throughout the Qualifying Two session. But as the end of qualifying drew closer the AF Corse Ferrari team began to show more pace.

James Calado and Sam Bird finished the session in the cars and were pushing hard to get some more ultimate pace out of the Ferrari 488 GTEs. The time set by Darren Turner was too much for the Ferrari to overcome and Calado had to settle for second in class. Richie Stanaway set the fast lap in the #95 Aston Martin, which, at the time, had looked like it, would be fast enough for pole position. He managed to fend off the second Ferrari of Bird and will take third on the grid.

Ford had looked like they had found some more pace in Qualifying Two, with the #69 Team USA entry holding provisional pole for a duration of time. But as the evening cooled off and the night running began they once again fell down the pack. The highest placed Ford for the race will be the #69 with a 3:51.232. Ford have seemed to close the gap since having a higher BoP added to their cars, with the gap to the pole sitter in class just over four-tenths.

It was in Qualifying Three that Aston Martin lost the advantage in the Am class. There was a big shuffle in the order at the beginning of the session that saw the Ferrari entrants look to be the favourites for pole. Will Stevens put the JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE on provisional pole and it looked like there was no extra time out there for the other Am cars to beat it.

The Am class has been varied in class leaders throughout the beginning of the WEC season, and this was the case again for qualifying. Four different manufacturers filled the top four at the final chequered flag, with the returning #50 Larbre Competition Corvette taking the glory of pole with a 3:52.843. The Corvette was the only LM GTE Am car to break into the 3m52s, with Pedro Lamy four-tenths behind in the championship-leading Aston Martin #98.