It was clear blue skies but very gusty conditions that met the FIA WEC runners for their first track action of the 2015 season.
As early as the first hour of the morning session, the #18 Porsche 919 of Marc Lieb banged in the fastest lap of the first 4 hours of track action with a 1’39’’292, not an official lap record but somewhat faster than the 1 :41.195 posted by a full fat 900 bhp Peugeot 908 back in the day. The speed trap on the Mistral straight clocked the Porsche at over 338 kph, it seems the 2015 season won’t be short of speed!
Then, at the opening of the afternoon session, the sister #17 Porsche 919 of Timo Bernhard broke the 1’39 barrier with a 1’38’’715 before Lieb, again aboard #18 posted the fastest lap of all two hours later with a stunning 1’37’’965.
In the absence of scrutineering here, it’s impossible to know whether the Porsches were running to WEC LMP1 regulations but whether or not they were it was still one hell of a statement.
And it wasn’t just in the speed stakes that the Porsches impressed, they showed impressive reliability too with over 150 laps covered by each car during the morning and afternoon sessions and a fastest lap time improved by a little less than 3.5 seconds in comparison to the 2014 Prologue fastest lap (1’41’’289).
Toyota and Audi focused on their development programs and apparently did not try to retaliate. Both teams never lapped faster than 1’39 yet also showed lap time improvements of 2 to 3 seconds versus their quickest laps at the Prologue last year.
Behind the three works teams, the CLM P1 of Trummer/Kaffer/Liuzzi experienced some mechanical issues in the afternoon which lead them to stop or slow down significantly on the track. It was, unsurprisingly, the slowest of the LMP1 category with best lap covered in 1’49’’956.
In LMP2, the #39 SARD Morand of Klein/Saga/Amberg managed the fastest lap towards the end of the afternoon session with a fastest lap of 1’48’325, over half a second faster than last year’s fastest LMP2 fastest lap time (1’48’970 – Millenium Racing).
Sam Bird and the #26 GDrive Ligier JSP2 came in second. That car however only covered thirteen laps as the team worked towards the 50 laps required of them to earn a third engine for the season.
The beautifull KCMG Oreca 05 finished third fastest over the first two sessions. However, the car did have trouble in the morning session, Matt Howson went off into the wall which left the car garaged for much of the morning, the #47 eventually emerging with its nose panel replaced with an all black item, the very new Oreca low on spares.
In LMGTE Pro, the fastest times were very close battle, just six tenths separated the runners in the afternoon session.
It was the morning session though that saw the fastest times of all with the two Manthey Porsches topping the times, 1 :58.372 the best of the bunch for the #91 911RSR two hundredths faster than the sister car was as usual extremely fierce. But here again, Porsche showed an impressive pace, trusting the top two positions of the Pro and Am categories.
The third fastest GTE time of the two sessions came in the afternoon and it was another Porsche, this time the #77 LMGTE AM Dempsey Proton 911 RSR of Pat Long that topped the class timesheets for the daytime running with a 1 :58.401.
The second Dempsey Proton car (#88) popped in the second fastest time of the two sessions in the hands of Klaus Bachler.
Neither the Larbre Corvette, nor the #28 G-Drive Ligier Nissan ran in the daylight sessions with the #35 Oak Racing Ligier Nissan seeing very limited running after engine troubles intervened
Romain Dumas made it a clean sweep of fastest times for the #18 Porsche with yet another overall improvement, a 1 :37.220 the fastest time of the day in the early running of the 2 hour night session.
The #17 Porsche made it a one-two for Porsche for two sessions in a row with the two Toyotas next up.
The KCMG Oreca was fastest in LMP2 (1 :47.456 ) by far the fastest class time of the day, Pipo Derani taking the #28 G-Drive Ligier out for the first time and setting the second fastest time. Of the session.
Only a handful of GTs took part in the session with James Calao topping the times in the #71 AF Corse Ferrari. (1 :59.006) ahead of Marco Sorensen in the #95 Aston Martin.
The #96 Aston was the only GTE AM car to post a time in the first hour (a best of 2 :00.5), meaning that the only car present not to have lapped thus far is the Larbre Corvette.
Both Dempsey Proton Porsches emerged for a short run apiece in the final 30 minutes but did not trouble the Aston’s time.
MF & GG