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FIA WEC: Paul Ricard Prologue, Saturday Reports

Audi finally decided to come to the party in the Saturday morning session.

The #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid completed 100 laps in the four-hour session and with the fastest lap of 1:39.157 continues to dominate proceedings.

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The two Audi cars completed 47 laps apiece and left it late in the session to set 1:39.721 (#7) and 1:39.513 (#8) laps to finish up third and second in session respectively.

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The #18 Porsche 919 Hybrid reduced its lap count to one similar to Audi’s and set an early time on lap four of 1:39.745 to finish the session in fourth.

The much-revised 2015 Toyota TS040 Hybrids both refuse to enter the fun and games and resolutely hold fifth and sixth.

The Team ByKolles CLM brings up the tail of the times, having completed a creditable 39 laps.

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For the LMP2 class, Saturday morning saw much action, with a sum total of 336 5.8km laps completed by the eight cars to run. The only cars planned not to run were the two ESMs.

The #43 Morand-SARD of Oliver Webb, Pierre Ragues and Tristan Vautier set the early pace with a 1:48.022 in relatively cool and less windy conditions. The pretty Dome-Nissan of Strakka Racing continued to lap consistently, working down to a 1:48.192 and a solid 49-lap count.

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As the session rolled on others took up the pace with first Signatech Alpine (1:47.950) and finally the snake-nosed G-Drive Onroak Ligier JS P2 #26 with Sam Bird at the wheel taking class session honours with a 1:47.760. For meaningless comparisons’ sake, last year the best LMP2 (ironically Millenium) was running 1:49.084 – so a significant step up in pace.

There was a red flag in the midst of the session to recover the #35 Oak Racing Ligier, which had stopped on track. The pace of this car was somewhat slower than the others, although they did complete the highest number of laps (67) not quite matching the tone set by the LMP1 #17 Porsche train.

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To conclude and as a slight aside it may be a point of interest that five different chassis occupied the top five places in class, with two different powerplants utilised and tyres from two manufacturers.

In the two LM GTE classes, all cars except the #50 Larbre Competition ran in the morning. The team informed Dailysportscar.com that the car had reached Larbre only last Tuesday, leaving them just enough time for a paint job and for WEC telemetry equipment installation, but not enough to be ready for a proper test session.

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In LM GTE Pro and LM GTE Am, fastest laps were improved compared to yesterday. In both categories, it was not a domination of Porsche, but one of Aston Martin.

Fastest time overall was achieved by Stuart Hall in an LM GTE Am car, the #96 Aston Martin with a lap of 1:57.116. That was a 1.3-second improvement compared to yesterday’s fastest GTE lap. Reasons for this improvement may lie in the absence of strong gusty winds on the track.

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“Conditions were really tough yesterday,” said Manu Collard to DSC. “There were areas on the track where you could potentially lose the car without a warning. It was most unpleasant. Today, conditions were perfect.”

In LMGTE Pro, fastest time was by the #99 Aston Martin of MacDowall/Rees with a lap of 1:57.331. They were followed by the #51 Ferrari 458 of Bruni/Vilander, which led the category time sheets in the early part of the session with 1:57.440. The #92 Porsche of Pilet/Makowiecki/Henzler was third with a fastest lap time of 1:58.003.

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LM GTE Am mimicked the LM GTE Pro category, with the #66 JMW Ferrari of Avenatti/Giermaziak running second-fastest behind the Aston Martin of Hall with a lap of 1:57.851. Third for the morning session was #77 Porsche of Patrick Long with a best lap of 1:58.275.

PM Session

The Saturday afternoon session saw no improvements in the fastest lap times of each categories as track temperatures increased by up to 20 degrees.

In LMP1, although #7 Audi led for a big part of the afternoon, ultimately the two Porsche 919s scored the session’s fastest lap times with 1:39.321 for the #18 of Jani/Lieb/Dumas and 1:39.352 for #17 of Bernhard/Webber/Hartley. The two cars were followed by the two Audis, the two Toyotas and the CLM P1/01 AER.

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The session came to a slightly premature end when Mike Conway ran off track in the #2 Toyota after contact with the #51 Ferrari, the TS040 reportedly getting briefly and slightly airborne and the return to terra firma damaging the car. That brought out the red flag with 15 minutes of scheduled running remaining and the Race Director opted to bring proceedings to a halt.

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In LMP2, both ESM HPDs and the #26 G-Drive Ligier remained in the pits while the Oreca 05 KCMG only covered one lap.

The #28 G-Drive Ligier-Nissan led the session with a fastest lap time of 1:48.588 followed by the two Morgan SARD of Team SARD Morand Racing scoring fastest lap times within half a second of the leading car.

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In LM GTE, natural hierarchy was restored with LM GTE Pro being faster than LM GTE Am cars. Aston Martin, Porsche and Ferrari battled throughout the afternoon for the best lap.

In LM GTE Pro, the #95 Aston Martin of Marco Sorensen realised a fastest lap of 1:57.676 followed by the #91 Porsche of Lietz/Christensen/Begmeister and the #51 Ferrari of Bruni/Vilander.

Finally in LM GTE Am, the #88 Porsche of Reid/Al Qubaisi/Bachler was fastest with a lap time of 1:58.473 in front of the #83 Ferrari of Perrodo/Collard/Aguas and the #66 Ferrari of Avenatti/Giermaziak.

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Saturday Morning Times >>

Saturday Afternoon Times >>

Mat Fernandez & Nick Holland