Toyota Gazoo Racing’s pair of TS050 HYBRIDs topped the times in today’s Le Mans Test Day, Sebastien Buemi emerging as the Japanese team’s fastest driver.
Buemi’s best time came with 30 minutes remaining in the four-hour Afternoon Session, which was held in scorching conditions. Buemi was the only driver to break the 3:20 mark with a 3:19.440 in the #8. It was, however, a slightly slower lap than the best time set during last year’s Test at Le Mans, which was a 3:19.066.
Nevertheless, the #8 finished up the day’s running comfortably at the top of the times, just over a second clear of the sister car which led the way at various points during the eight hours of track action. The #8 was also 2.7 seconds clear of the fastest non-hybrid privateer runner in LMP1, the #1 Rebellion R-13.
Both Rebellions ran the new low-downforce aero once again, after trialling the new kits at Spa, but weren’t able to eclipse the best time set by an R-13 at last year’s test, a 3:19.680. This time around, the Swiss team’s best tour of the circuit was a 3:21.323 from Andre Lotterer. It is very early days here though, and there will be plenty of time for Rebellion to improve its pace during race week.
SMP’s pair of BR1s were next in the running order, coming in fourth and fifth in the times, 3.4 and 3.9 seconds off Buemi’s time respectively. All four Rebellion and SMP cars lapped within a second of each other here.
Sixth was DragonSpeed’s BR1, the American team, fresh from its maiden Indy 500 run, having a troubled day, only managing 31 laps, the fewest in the class. Ride height issues in the morning and a gearbox problem during the afternoon set the team back here.
Renger van Der Zande was, however, upbeat about the car’s potential in conversation with DSC, the Dutchman explaining that the team would be in the mix in the times had it not hit traffic at the Porsche Curves during its quicker laps.
Ho Pin Tung set the pace in LMP2, with a time in the final minutes of the Afternoon session. His time was a 3:28.504, to put the Dunlop-shod #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA ahead of the DragonSpeed ORECA which looked set to end the day’s running fastest.
“I hope we can keep this one-lap performance up for race week. I don’t think anyone is showing their hand. I’m sure when Qualifying comes in race week we will produce good lap times,” said Tung.
“Being quickest doesn’t always mean you’ll win the race though. The competition is hard in LMP2, there are only four points between our car and the Alpine. We will be pushing!”
Pastor Maldonado put Michelin-shod DragonSpeed second with a 3:28.769, while Nicolas Lapierre put the WEC points-leading Alpine third.
The fastest of the other chassis in the class ended up seventh, the Racing Team Nederland Dallara ending up two seconds off the top time.
Further down the order, there were plenty of rookies getting up to speed with the Circuit de la Sarthe today in LMP2.
Arjun Maini was one of them, the former F2 racer with Trident and Haas F1 development driver, who is driving in LMP2 for the first time this year with RLR Msport in the ELMS was really encouraged by his first day of track action at Le Mans. The Indian driver said it’s taken a bit of time to get up to speed with the 13.6km circuit, but he now feels comfortable ahead of race week. RLR’s ORECA ended up 14th with a 3:32.192.
In GTE Pro, it was Corvette Racing that ran fastest, Mike Rockenfeller driving its #63 C7.R setting a 3:54.001.
“It’s always good to be the fastest, but today doesn’t count,” Rockenfeller said. “It was really good for me though as sometimes I struggle coming from a DTM car to a GTE car. Last year I just did the race and missed the pre-test, so today I got lots of laps in. I think the morning the circuit was greasy but it got so much better towards the end.”
Completing the top three in the class were the #67 Ford and #64 Corvette, which improved on pace throughout the day.
The top 15 in GTE Pro ended up within 1.2 seconds of one another, the only cars truly off the pace being the two BMW Team MTEK M8 GTEs, which were over two seconds off at the bottom of the times.
A couple of cars suffered issues during the Test in Pro, the #95 losing a lot of track time with an electrical issue which brought out red flags in the morning session after Marco Sorensen stopped at the Porsche Curves.
Risi Competizione’s Ferrari was also in the wars. Team newcomer Oliver Jarvis, who was one of 12 drivers that flew straight to France from the IMSA Detroit GP overnight, ground to a halt at one of the chicanes down the Mulsanne Straight, bringing out a safety car.
The car also suffered a sensor issue, which cost the team further time after it lost two hours of the morning session due to the timing of the drivers’ briefing for the latecomers.
Then there was GTE Am, which WeatherTech Racing eventually topped thanks to a 3:56.862 from Toni Vilander. The three drivers, (Vilander, Rob Smith and Cooper MacNeil) travelled from far and wide, but had a strong day of running. Vilander and MacNeil jetted in from Detroit while Rob Smith drove to Le Mans from Paul Ricard, the former GTE Am class winner competing in the Blancpain Endurance Race at the French circuit.
“It’s been a busy schedule for me the past six weeks,” said Vilander after the day’s running.
“It’s been a positive day. Our story is different, we don’t race in the WEC, we have a brand new car that was used on a racetrack for the first time today. For us it was important to see the car was performing well. We’ve all come from America, and I’m proud to be here and part of this programme.
“We were six seconds from the pole position from last year, so that says it all, there were lots of cars on fast laps diving into the pits.”
The top five in Am were all Ferrari 488 GTEs, the #61 Clearwater 488 ending up second, ahead of the #54 Spirit of Race, #57 Car Guy Racing and #60 Kessel Racing examples.
Best of the rest was the Gulf Racing Porsche, eight tenths off.
Next up on the Le Mans 24 Hours schedule is Scrutineering in the Le Mans city centre next Sunday, ahead of the first track action of race week.