In just the second year of its high-profile return to the LMP1 category of the FIA World Endurance Championship, Porsche has romped to a 1-2-3 in qualifying for this weekend’s 83rd running of the Le Mans 24 Hours.
The #18 Porsche 919 Hybrid piloted by Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb will lead the works team’s effort after Jani posted a provisional pole-sitting time of 3:16.887 around the 13.629-kilometre Circuit de la Sarthe on Wednesday, which proved unbeatable across the remaining sessions.
The German carmaker swept to the top-three positions, with the #17 of Mark Webber/ Brendon Hartley / Timo Bernard in second fastest ahead of the #19 Force India F1 pilot Nico Hülkenberg and co-drivers Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy.
It was Porsche’s first Le Mans 24 Hours pole since 1997. The result also extended Porsche’s run of pole positions in the WEC to six on the trot.
Rival manufacturer and defending Le Mans 24 Hours champions Audi claimed the next three positions on the starting grid, with the lead-up to this weekend’s race suggesting that the R18 e-tron quattros will give Porsche a run for their money in race trim.
Leading its charge was the #8 entry of Lucasd di Grassi/Loïc Duval / Oliver Jarvis, which was a staggering 2.9 seconds off the pace of the pole-winning Porsche. It will start ahead of the #7 driven by Marcel Fässler / André Lotterer / Benoît Tréluyer and the sister #9 of Filipe Albuquerque / Marco Bonanomi / René Rast.
The reigning WEC champions Toyota couldn’t get either of their TS 040 HYBRIDs within six seconds of pole positions and will start from the fourth row of the grid; the #2 entry of Stéphane Sarrazin / Alexander Wurz / Mike Conway remained ahead of defending WEC champions Anthony Davidson/ Sébastien Buemi / Kazuki Nakajima in the #1 car.
The brand new front-engined Nissan GT-R LM NISMO entries made further progress on the team’s return to the LMP1 category, qualifying twelfth, thirteenth and fifteenth fastest.
Fourteenth-fastest was the first of the LMP2 category cars, with Richard Bradley putting the#47 KCMG Nissan ORECA 05 that he, Matt Howson and Nicolas Lapierre will pilot in the race in pole position. They will start ahead of the G-Drive Ligier-Nissan of Roman Rusinov / Julien Canal / Sam Bird.
The GTE classes were dominated by Aston Martin, with its #99 and #98 entries claiming respective pole positions in the Pro and Pro-Am classes.
Monaco GP2 Series Sprint Race winner Richie Stanaway did the honours among the LMGTE-Pro entries, edging out the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia of Gimmi Bruni / Toni Vilander / Giancarlo Fisichella, which came within 0.097 seconds of the New Zealander’s time.
Qualifying saw a number of incidents, although the biggest by far was a huge crash for former F1 driver Jan Magnussen, whose #63 Corvette C7R had an enormous accident at the Porsche Curves in Qualifying 2 after suffering a mechanical. The Dane was checked out at the circuit medical centre and declared injury-free, but the team has been forced to withdraw the entry.
The 83rd Le Mans 24 hours starts at 15:00 local time (GMT +2) on Saturday afternoon.
Images via Motorsport.com