Michelin’s unbeaten spell at Le Mans that has lasted since 1998 can be explained by the performance and consistency of the successive generations of enduranc...
Thursday’s qualifying sessions produced little drama, although the overnight pole-sitter Kazuki Nakajima (Toyota 8, Alonso/Nakajima/Buemi) succeeded in lowering the benchmark to 3m15.377s in Q3 to make sure of the coveted prize. The two Michelin-equipped TS050-Hybrids will consequently monopolise the front row for the start of the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours on Saturday. Porsche/Michelin continued its domination of the LM GTE Pro and Am timesheets thanks to the N°91 and N°88 911 RSRs respectively, while Idec Sport’s N°48 Oreca07 LMP2 prototype made it a clean sweep for Michelin partners in all four classes!
The predictions of a wet evening failed to materialise and Q2 took place in entirely dry conditions. It is difficult to judge whether any of the teams had plans to make an early bid to improve their grid positions, however, since the session was disrupted by a high number of yellow flag incidents, slow zones and a 20-minute red flag interruption a quarter-of-an-hour into the session.
The two-hour run was eventually shortened to just 90 minutes when the red flag was shown a second time.
To counter the frustration of those teams who wanted to work through their programmes, Race Control decided to start Q3 half-an-hour ahead of schedule, at 9:30pm local time instead of 10pm.
As a consequence, the conditions were still reasonably bright when the third qualifying session kicked off and Toyota Gazoo Racing took advantage of the situation to send out its Japanese drivers Kazuki Katayama and Kamui Kobayashi to see what they could do in their respective LMP1-Hybrid prototypes. The former was immediately on the pace and successfully shaved more than three seconds off his overnight pole time with a lap of 3m15.377s. Kobayashi also improved but ended up exactly two seconds short of his team-mate. He can still take satisfaction, though, from the fact that his record-breaking effort of 2017 went unbeaten!
Meanwhile, none of Porsche’s rivals succeeded in threatening the German make’s domination in LM GTE. The N°91 and N°92 911 RSR/Michelins held on to their lead in the Pro class, chased by the N°66 Ford GT/Michelin (3
In the Am standings, Dempsey-Proton Racing successfully defended the advantage earned last night by its N°88 car (Cairoli/Al Qubaisi/Roda), but the N°86 911 RSR (Gulf racing) managed to steal second spot from the N°77 car. The best non-Porsche at the chequered flag was the N°54 Ferrari which missed out on a footing on the podium by just 26-thousandths of a second.
In LMP2, the Idec Sport/Michelin prototype (N°48, Chatin/Lafargue/Rojas) was toppled from the class lead by the similar N°28 car (TDS Racing) shortly before the rain shower. The TDS car later had its lap times scrubbed, however, as a penalty for failing to stop as instructed at the pit lane scrutineering tent and Idec Sport recovered its prize. Michelin runners ended up filling three of the class’s top five positions thanks to the Idec Sport car, the N°31 Dragonspeed Oreca07 and the N°23 Panis Barthez Compétition Ligier.
Next on the programme is a so-called rest day on Friday, featuring the immensely popular Drivers’ Parade in Le Mans city centre. The 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours is then scheduled to start at 3pm CEST on Saturday. The race will be flagged away by tennis superstar Rafael Nadal, winner of last weekend’s French Open in Paris last Sunday.