Porsche is once again, back on top at Le Mans. Neel Jani stormed the circuit early tonight in the first of Le Mans, customary three qualifying sessions. He claimed a new track record of 3 minutes 16.887 seconds for the 8 megajoule 919 hybrid. His lap beat the previous record of 3 minutes 18.513 seconds held by Stephane Sarrazin in the formidable Peugeot 908 HDI-FAP.
Smashing a record held by Peugeot was fitting for Porsche as their trifecta of 919’s poses the greatest threat Audi has faced at La Sarthe since the 2009 race when Peugeot claimed the top spot.
Porsche took the pole at both Silverstone and Spa, only to loose out to Audi after being out foxed or out raced on track, but the measure by which they qualified speaks to Porsche’s determination to right the ship come Sunday afternoon.
The sister Porsche’s came in second and third posting 3 minutes 17.76 seconds and 3 minutes 19.297 seconds respectively.
After a small gap came the closest Audi, Loic Duval taking the R18 to a best time of 3 minutes 19.866 seconds. The sister cars followed him home in fifth and sixth.
Defending WEC champions and 2014 Le Mans pole sitters Toyota were noticeably further back in seventh and eighth only managing runs in the mid 3 minute 23 second range.
True to form Rebellion Racing led the privateer LMP1 ranks, nipping at Toyota’s heals with a strong 3 minute 26.874 second lap.
Nissan struggled in qualifying, their best time of 3 minutes 38 seconds qualified the top GT-R LM Nismo in a lowly 12th.
KCMG takes the LMP2 honors
KCMG in their shiny new Oreca 05 led the way for the highly contested LMP2 class with a strong 3 minute 38 second lap, beating Greaves Motorsport by less than a second for top honors in class. Behind them a strong field of Ligiers, Orecas and Alpines is set to provide a prototype battle that may be even closer than the big name manufacturers in LMP1.
Aston Martin class of the GT field
Aston Martin showed their level of dominance by qualifying tops in GTE Pro and GTE Am as well, the top Pro car of Richie Stanaway only 1/10th ahead of the top Am car of Pedro Lamy with an impressive 3 minute 55.102 second lap. The AF Corse Ferrari 458 was the only competitor to truly get close with a 3 minute 55.306 second lap.
Still with stalwart crews for Porsche, Corvette and the lone Riley Viper in the crowd, Aston will have their work cut out for them.
Everything to play for
With the first of three qualifying sessions completed, Porsche has made a clear statement, victory will go to them or through them. Of note Neel Jani’s track record in the 919 is some 48 seconds per lap faster than the last placed car, the 911 RSR of Team AAI. With Porsches sandwiching one of the quickest and most competitive fields in history, the 83rd 24 Hours of Le Mans is the must see race of the season.