24 Hours of Le Mans Test Day Debrief
Plenty of stories were flying around La Sarthe this weekend as the Le Mans test day got underway. The #8 Toyota topped the times, the Ginettas managed to put in some laps and Aston Martin must build a new car before the big race.
More changes for the legendary circuit
Going into this year’s 24 Hours, some big changes have already been made, while some new ones have also been announced.
The legendary Porsche curves have received another safety-related update, introducing a larger runoff, new guardrails and fencing. Reactions from the drivers were mixed, but largely accepted on the grounds of safety.
Kazuki Nakajima said "It has radically changed. It's bigger and wider. For safety reasons, I think it's better for drivers and that is what is most important. But, I think it takes away some of the excitement and sense of speed at the Porsche Curves. That is what motorsport is all about! On one hand it's a little sad, on the other I think it needed to be done."
Ford driver Andy Priaulx praised the ACO’s work, saying "ACO officials reacted to the accident that took place in this area last year. I think that's fantastic, they did great work and it really makes how they're making the circuit safer. I don't think they could have done any better. I spoke with some of them yesterday evening about future projects and they're going to continue to improve the circuit in the coming years. That's a good thing since the cars are getting faster and faster."
It was also announced that major upgrades were coming to the pit facilities and grandstand above the pitlane. Scheduled to take place between 2020 and 2023 (the centennial of the 24 Hour) the new works will include upgrades to the existing permanent pits, brand new VIP loges, a new drivers’ briefing and press room and an extension to the pit grandstand.
CEFC TRSM cars set over 90 laps as Ginetta announce extended commitment
Following their withdrawal from the 6 Hours of Spa, question marks surrounded the CEFC TRSM team as to whether they would be participating in this year’s Le Mans. Having assured us that the funds were in place, the two Ginetta chassis were allowed to compete in the test day, completing 94 laps between them.
During the weekend, Ginetta also announced that they would be committed to LMP1 for at least five years.
Speaking to DailySportsCar, boss of Ginetta, Lawrence Tomlinson said “We’re here to compete, and to show that we are very serious about LMP1,” he said. “This is a 5-10 year commitment from Ginetta and whilst the commercial issues for TRSM have meant that our testing programme has been massively delayed, that shouldn’t be confused with our intention to take this programme forward.
“The ACO deserve a massive vote of thanks for their patience and understanding in the past few weeks, tht’s allowed us to be here, and to have the space to put together what sits here today.
“Yes we’ll run a conservative race plan, but then I suspect most of the LMP1 field will do much the same. Our intention is to carry on working with TRSM Manor, they are our customer, but if we come out of the race in good order there’s a third car immediately available for sale; we’d like to see that out and racing too as soon as possible.”
Big prep job for Dragonspeed LMP1
It’s fantastic to see the Dragonspeed BR1 back out at the test day following Pietro Fittipaldi’s horrendous incident at the 6 Hours of Spa. However, Elton Julien’s team have had their work cut out for them as the Spa accident damaged their original BR1 beyond repair.
The team reportedly received a brand new tub just eight days before this test day and have had a mammoth task building the new car. According to Julien, the original car was so badly damaged that nothing in front of the fuel cell was salvageable.
Racking up the frequent flyer miles
This first weekend of June has been a busy one calendar-wise and as a result a huge number of drivers have had to make last minute dashes to the Le Mans test day.
Out in Detroit, 15 drivers were taking part in the IMSA fun at Belle Isle, including Filipe Albuquerque (who took the win at Belle Isle), Juan Pablo Montoya, Felipe Nasr and Harry Tincknell. According to Tincknell's Twitter, several of them jetted back together in style courtesy of a Gulfstream!
And over in Europe, the Blancpain GT series were having a six hour race at Paul Ricard with 18 of the Le Mans entrants. Drivers coming up from Le Castellet included Matt Griffin (who won his class at Paul Ricard), Alex Brundle, Vitaly Petrov and Nicki Thiim.
Reserve LMP2 driver Wayne Boyd got to enjoy an extended test session as he stepped in for Paul di Resta who was unable to attend due to DTM commitments.
Toyota fastest in the morning session
It wouldn’t be the FIA WEC 2018 Super Season without a headline about Alonso being quick. Well, unsurprisingly, the Spaniard set the fastest time in the #8 Toyota during the morning testing session. The 3:21.468 put him at the top, less than four-tenths ahead of second. Which wasn’t a Toyota. In a surprising development given the discussion about EoT and how it will affect privateers vs Toyota, it was the #3 Rebellion which finished second quickest thanks to a 3:21.828 time set by Thomas Laurent. Third place went the way of Toyota with Mike Conway setting a 3:22.187.
The best of the SMPs was the #17 in the hands of Stephane Sarrazin. The sister car with Jenson Button behind the wheel had early sensor issues, so didn’t manage to set any flying laps until the second half of the session.
The two Ginettas and the #10 Dragonspeed BR1 didn’t manage to set competitive times. Ben Hanley in the Dragonspeed only managed six installation laps before mechanical issues ground the car to a halt.
It was a familiar story in LMP2 as the Orecas proved once again that they were the car to beat. The #26 G-Drive Racing ELMS entry sat at the top of the times with a 3:30.176 from Alexandre Imperatori, over half a second faster than fellow ELMS runner Paul-Lou Chatin in the #48 IDEC Sport.
In GTE Pro, Ford dominated the morning session with a 1,2,3,4 finish. The Brits outpaced the Americans though, with the #67 and #66 finishing ahead of the #68 and #69. Andy Priaulx in the #67 set the pace with a 3:53.008. The #91 Porsche of Richard Lietz, Gianmaria Bruni and Fred Makowiecki was the fastest non-Ford of the session.
Clearwater Racing’s Keita Sawa set the pace in GTE Am, wringing a 3:58.569 out of the Ferrari. Snapping at their heels were both Dempsey Proton Porsches, with the #77 finishing second fastest a mere 0.006 seconds behind the Clearwater.
The morning session had to be cut short however, as red flags were brought out for a heavy impact for Marco Sorensen in the #95 Aston Martin. Sorensen was reported to be alright, but the chassis was damaged, and the team must put together a new car before the main event.
Repeat at the top in the afternoon session
The afternoon session kicked off early following the morning’s reduced running and produced much of the same at the head of the field.
Fernando Alonso in the #8 Toyota finished fastest, managing to break into the 3:19s, the only other car to do so was the #3 Rebellion in the hands of Mathias Beche, setting a 3:19.680.
Despite a slow start to their test day, the sister Rebellion ended the day fourth quickest thanks to some excellent driving and a 3:21.3 from Le Mans veteran Andre Lotterer. The #4 ByKolles finished 7th fastest behind the two SMP Racing cars but are clearly making progress as they bested their 2017 qualifying time with a 3:23.644 set by Austrian driver Dominik Kraihamer. Bringing up the rear in LMP1 were the two Ginettas of CEFC TRSM. Both cars made improvements on their morning times, but they still finished behind the top two LMP2 runners.
The #31 Dragonspeed took the LMP2 top spot ahead of the morning’s second place finishers IDEC Sport. Phil Hanson and Filipe Albuquerque did well to bring their United Autosports Ligier as high as fifth during their stints, and the #22 ultimately finished as the highest placed Ligier in sixth. The Cetillar Villorba Corse team managed an eighth place finish and were the best placed Dallara.
Some stellar driving from Patrick Pilet and Gianmaria Bruni in the #93 and #91 Fords stole the thunder from the Fords, beating them to first and second in GTE Pro. The Ford squad still stuck together managing to take third through sixth. There was drama for the #51 Ferrari, which stopped out on track during the session, ending the day early for Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Serra.
In GTE Am, Julien Andlauer put the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche in the top spot with a 3:55.970. Troubles for some of the other runners though, as Aston Martin lost another car from the GTE field. The #98 of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda suffered engine damage as the car took a trip across the kerbs. EBIMOTORS also had their fair share of problems, having had to replace the engine and gearbox, the car came to a standstill during Christina Nielsen’s outlap. While the #56 Project 1 Porsche had limited running due to damage sustained in an accident during the morning session.
Le Mans week kicks off on Sunday, June 10th as public scrutineering opens for the first time. The race itself begins at 15.00 local time on Saturday, June 16th.
End of day Results:
#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing 3:19.066
#3 Rebellion Racing 3:19.680
#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing 3:20.008
#31 Dragonspeed 3:27.228
#48 IDEC Sport 3:27.252 (ELMS)
#26 G-Drive Racing 3:28.394 (ELMS)
#93 Porsche GT Team 3:52.551
#91 Porsche GT Team 3:52.647
#67 Ford Chip Ganssi Team UK 3:53.008
#77 Dempsey Proton Racing 3:55.970
#54 Spirit of Race 3:56.269
#61 Clearwater Racing 3:56.269
This article was originally published on Overtake Motorsport.
Shared with permission from the author.
Cover Image: Toyota Gazoo Racing