Several periods of varied track action later, with lunch consumed and precipitation eased, the ELMS drivers faced a dry(-ish) track for the beginning of the second free practice session. It was quarter-to-two…
Conditions were still far from perfect, and even on their out-laps a few encountered patches that were sufficiently damp to prompt spins and slides. Being based in the old pits offered the possibility for drivers to start flying laps almost straight away, with enough circuit between the old pitlane exit and the timing beacon at the Wing to generate some warmth in the tyres, but the opportunity was lost by a near-instantaneous red flag. Paul Loup Chatin in the #23 Panis-Barthez Ligier had stopped on the International Straight lacking a wheel and everyone returned to the pitlane.
As a result it was nearly 3pm before the first times were set, with Matthias Beche again to the fore, taking the #46 Thiriet by TDS Oreca across the line in 1:56.368. Others to show, at this early stage, were Leo Roussel in the #29 Pegasus Morgan, Sean Gelael in the #44 SMP Racing BR01 and Franck Mailleux aboard the #34 Race Performance Oreca-Judd.
Roussel’s second flyer was a significant improvement and moved the #29 Pegasus Racing Morgan to the top of the screens, but with the track conditions so much improved over the morning session, almost every new lap was an advance. Times continued to tumble steadily for ten minutes or so, although the principal protagonists remained the same, Beche and Roussel swapping places turn by turn.
The situation in LMP3 was similar. Alex Brundle was an early riser, posting a best of 1:59.282 for United Autosports #2, ahead of Sean Rayhall (#10 Graff) and Thomas Laurent (#18 M.Racing YMR).
In GTE, with all nine cars on track, Alexander Talkanitsa was a comfortable leader in the class, 20 minutes gone. His best in the #56 AT Racing Ferrari was a 2:01.571, a full second quicker than Wolf Henzler in the #77 Proton Competition Porsche, with Rob Smith third fastest for JMW, making up for a less-than-fulfilling run in the day’s earlier session.
Although technically still ‘wet’, enough of a dry line had been established around most of the circuit to allow drivers to continue pushing. Beche’s best, set just before handing over to Ryo Hirakawa, had been a 1:51.201, and this stood proud for most of the remaining 70 minutes or so, but elsewhere there were individual improvements on a regular basis. Olivier Lombard brought the #22 SO24! Ligier through to fourth, and Stefano Coletti was consistently rapid aboard the #32 SMP Racing BR01.
If Thiriet by TDS had the top slot locked out in P2, the situation in P3 was far more fluid. Having shown strongly early on, the two United Autosports Ligiers were trumped mid-session by the Duqueine Engineering Ligier #19, the Graff Racing #9 and Sean Rayhall’s efforts in the sister #10.
The session was paused several times by full-course yellows while cars were recovered, but nothing sufficiently serious to warrant a red flag. The second all-yellow period, at 15:20, was to assist Ben Hanley and the #21 DragonSpeed Oreca-Nissan, stranded in the gravel at Becketts. During these enforced slow-lap periods most cars returned to the pitlane.
On this occasion the session resumed at 3:27pm, with just over 45 minutes remaining, but it didn’t last long. Five minutes later we were back to a full-course yellow again when François Heriau took to the outfield at Club in the #17 Ultimate Ligier. It was a brief respite and action resumed at 15:35.
Having largely dominated the morning session in GTE, the Astons were notably ‘slowest’ during the opening half of the afternoon session, occupying eighth and ninth in class for most of the period. AT Racing’s 458 maintained a firm grip as quickest, pushed hard by the #77 Proton Porsche and JMW’s similar Ferrari.
Here and there, notable improvements were made. After Chatin’s less-than-auspicious start to the afternoon, the #23 Panis-Barthez Ligier leaped up the order in the hands of Timothe Buret, posting a 1:51.960 to slot neatly into third overall. On his second flyer after the restart, Hirakawa posted the first major improvement for the #46, bettering Beche’s best with a 1:50.831 to create a full second’s buffer over the #29 Morgan lying second. Just 20 minutes remained.
The only car not to complete full laps in the afternoon was the #38 G-Drive racing (formerly Jota) Gibson-Nissan, suffering gearbox woes.
With less than 15 minutes to go, Roald Goethe in the V8 Vantage #96 snuck through to third-fastest in GTE, while Darren Turner had also eased the second Vantage off the tail of the GTE field to stand seventh in class. Ferraris (#56 and #66) stood quickest, knocking at the two-minute door on 2:01.535 and .635 respectively.
Out at the sharp end, there was little to report in the dying minutes. Mitch Evans had the #44 SMP Racing BR01 through to fourth (1:52.006) and Nicolas Lapierre eased the #21 DragonSpeed Oreca-Nissan into seventh. Unfortunately, there was little opportunity for further widespread improvements when race control called another full-course yellow, with Goethe awaiting recovery at Club. It must have been frustrating for Léo Roussel, who’d just set new fastest sectors for the #29 Pegasus Morgan, second to the #46 Thiriet by TDS Oreca.
The green lights were shown one last time, with three minutes on the clock. Matthias Beche took full advantage. With his first two sectors fastest yet, he crossed the line with a new quickest outright of 1:49.320 – the only car to duck under the one-fifty bar.
The chequered flag fluttered to bring the 90 minutes to a close. Lapierre came through on his last lap to snatch second for DragonSeed, posting a new best of 1:51.366 to slot in ahead of Roussel; for so long holding second for Pegasus. Top honours, though, went undeniably to Thiriet by TDS Racing; not only fastest in the hands of an imperious Matthias Beche, but clocking second-quickest time to boot, courtesy of Hirakama. With Thiriet himself also decently quick, the team’s gauntlet has hit the deck with a resounding thwack that others may find hard to better come qualifying tomorrow.