For the second year running, Toyota/Michelin topped the time sheet after the first of Le Mans week’s three qualifying sessions. Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima posted the evening’s fastest time (3m17.270s) shortly after the start of the session to steal an early advantage over team-mate Kamui Kobayashi (N°7 Toyota). Porsche/Michelin dominated the order in both LM GTE Pro and Am with the N°91 and N°88 911 RSRs respectively, while the N°48 Idec Sport prototype made it a Michelin grand slam in the four classes by claiming LMP2’s overnight pole. New lap records were posted in all the classes except LMP1.
The first qualifying session ahead of the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours turned out to be a relatively studious affair once the early attempts to secure overnight pole ended.
The driver making the headlines in Japan’s newspapers tomorrow morning will be Kazuki Nakajima whose time of 3m17.270s outpaced team-mate Kobayashi’s best attempt by 0.107s. That said, tonight’s benchmark is more than two seconds short of the latter’s record-breaking pole-winning time of 2017, which suggests that Toyota Gazoo Racing wasn’t pushed to its limits in the two-hour session.
The N°17 SMP Racing (+2.213s) and N°1 Rebellion Racing (+2.392s) non-hybrid LMP1 prototypes figure on the provisional second row.
Paul-Loup Chatin praised his Michelin tyres after putting his Idec Sport-run Oreca07-Gibson at the top of the LMP2 timesheets, although TDS Racing’s second-placed similar N°28 car was less than three-tenths behind at the chequered flag.
It was an all-Porsche/Michelin affair in both LM GTE classes as the German cars monopolised the top two slots in the Pro order and the top three places in Am.
Giancarlo Bruno catapulted the N°91 911 RSR to the top of the Pro classification with a stunning drive on his second lap but careered off into the gravel at the Dunlop chicane at the start of his third flyer. Third and fourth in the Pro battle were the N°66 and N°68 Ford GTs, with the N°51 Ferrari rounding out the top five.
As in the earlier free practice session, the N°88 and N°77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsches emerged as the cars to beat in LM GTE Am, with Ferrari positioned as the German make’s most threatening rival in fourth spot.
The fight for positions on Saturday afternoon’s grid will continue with Q2 (7pm local time) and Q3 (10pm) on Thursday. The weather forecasters are predicting a rainy evening, however, which means the start order may well have been settled by tonight’s times.