Late on Wednesday evening the Porsche LMP Team finished third and fifth in the first of three qualifying sessions for the 24-hour race of Le Mans. Concerning lap times, the team made significant progress compared to the test day on June 4. The drivers combined with their near 900 HP strong Porsche 919 Hybrids ran strongly in the session which ran until midnight. Earlier in the day, free practice also went smoothly despite ambient temperatures of up to 30 degree Celsius in the West of France.
The Le Mans Prototype with the car number 2 is in the hands of Earl Bamber (NZ), Timo Bernhard (DE) and Brendon Hartley (NZ). Bernhard secured third position with a time of 3:19.170 minutes. The number 1 sister car is shared by Neel Jani (CH), André Lotterer (DE) and Nick Tandy (GB). It was last year’s winner Jani who achieved the best lap time of that trio on the 13.629 kilometre long track in 3:21.165 minutes for position five, despite being held up in traffic. So far, the two-year-old qualifying record, set by the Swiss Porsche driver in 3:16.887 minutes, is unbeaten. All six Porsche LMP works drivers completed their five mandatory night laps although the session was shortened by 20 minutes. Porsche enters what is known as the world’s hardest endurance race as the record winner and title defender.
The only free practice session, held from 4pm until 8pm, saw Neel Jani setting the overall fastest lap time with the number 1 car in 3:20.362 minutes. The number 2 sister car came third with it’s best lap of 3:21.687 minutes achieved by Earl Bamber.
For tomorrow, Thursday, the second qualifying session is scheduled from 7pm until 9pm with the final qualifying following from 10pm until midnight. The weather forecast suggests stable conditions and therefore excitement until the very last minute.
Andreas Seidl, Team Principal: “First of all a big thank you to the entire team that has worked very, very hard since the test day to further improve the Porsche 919 Hybrid. Today, in the heat, they also did a super job. We have enjoyed a very positive start into the race week. We completed our entire programme on Wednesday with no issues and learnt a lot in terms of race set-up. Both cars worked very well despite the high ambient temperatures. We tried a first ‘qually’ attempt with both cars right at the beginning of the session. Neel especially had no clear lap and afterwards we continued our race preparation.”
Drivers Porsche 919 Hybrid car number 1:
Neel Jani (33, Switzerland): “I tried a ‘qually’ attempt at the start of the session but I was in a massive amount of traffic which seriously affected my lap times. The car felt pretty good though and we’ve closed the gap on Toyota.”
André Lotterer (35, Germany): “I felt the car’s balance was inconsistent but we will work on that. Regarding the grid position, Neel was unlucky in traffic today but tomorrow we have another opportunity to improve our grid position.”
Nick Tandy (32, Great Britain): “My night session was interesting as there was a lot of cut grass and general debris flying around the circuit – something I’d never experienced here at Le Mans before. I think all three drivers have been happier with the car today compared to the test day but we still have work to do.“
Drivers Porsche 919 Hybrid car number 2
Earl Bamber (26, New Zealand): “I did my mandatory laps in the night session. The car feels pretty well balanced and we’ve definitely made a step forward from the test day. It shows how hard everyone is working and we just need to keep squeezing the odd tenth of a second out of the car.”
Timo Bernhard (36, Germany): “I tried to set a good lap time right at the beginning of the session and got quite close. But it is pretty difficult with sixty cars on the track. However, the most important thing is that we know that we have good pace. In terms of the temperatures, the track is in a good window, but it will certainly get cleaner and therefore faster.”
Brendon Hartley (27, New Zealand): “I’m very happy with the car – the guys have done an awesome job since the official test day. Timo was a little unfortunate with traffic on his ‘qually’ run but on our race runs we’re right there.”