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Le Mans 24 Hours: Thursday Paddock Notes

Update on Krohn, a look back on last night's Qualifying session and double-duty teams

Tracy Krohn hoping to race

After his big incident during Free Practice down Mulsanne in the #99 Proton Porsche, Tracy Krohn is in the process of getting clearance to race.

The American was released from the hospital this morning, and now requires clearance from the hospital and medical delegate at the circuit in order to drive this weekend. DSC understands that he wants to race.

Despite rumours that he was hit by an LMP2, causing the off into the barriers, it has emerged that it was a single car incident, which happened after confusion caused by a white flag.

The team (above), is currently working on a spare car.

Double duty teams

While there are no drivers competing in the Road to Le Mans and Le Mans 24 Hours this year, there are plenty of teams running cars in both.

In the Road to Le Mans LMP3 category, RLR Msport, GRAFF, United Autosports, Inter Europol and Spirit of Race (also in GT3) have cars, while in GT3, Kessel Racing and TF Sport will run cars.

Toyota Looking on for pole

Toyota ended day one of track action on top, as expected, in one sense, with the #7 car on provisional pole position following the best lap of the meeting so far, a 3:17.161 from Kamui Kobayashi.

“It wasn’t the best lap as I experienced quite a lot of traffic. It’s a pity not to have a clear lap but the car feels good and I think the time can be improved. Qualifying doesn’t mean anything in a 24-hour race so we are just preparing for the race as best we can. The track conditions today probably don’t match what we will face in the race so we still have preparation work to do.”

Lopez was another driver who had noticed that the level of traffic seemed worse, a trend likely to continue if the ACO continues to expand the entry list as planned. Making the problems worse were the fact that large chunks of the session were run with yellow flags and slow zones, so any full green sessions tended to lead to a busy track.

The #8 car still has work to do, however, turning most of its laps in the 3:20’s and ‘only’ managing a best of 3:19.632 for a provisional fourth place.

Nakajima confirmed that he had tried for a quick time, but losing at least 2.5 seconds in traffic suggests that it can’t have been anywhere near being an all-out effort.

“The practice session was affected by the rain so it was not as productive as it could have been. In the night I attempted a qualifying lap on new tyres but I suffered in traffic. Qualifying is always a lottery here with the traffic and today we just didn’t have the luck. We will do our best to improve in the final two sessions. But we tried different set-ups in the night and learned a few things which will be useful.”

Alonso confirmed that after Nakajima’s effort the team concentrated on race set-up again.

The general view following qualifying was that Thursday would, in fact, stay dry, which had looked very unlikely at times during Wednesday. As such the track is order is likely to change and hopefully, Thursday’s two sessions will be more entertaining than the disjointed and rather flat first qualifying session.

DragonSpeed hoping for a cleaner run today

In P2, DragonSpeed had a very eventful session with a nasty-looking accident for Gonzalez but ultimately provisional pole-position for Pastor Maldonado.

“We have been working pretty well today and testing different things to get ready for the race. We are quick and just doing our job. We need to focus and concentrate, really concentrate, but I think we are in good shape.

“On my fastest lap, I did get traffic and lost maybe three to five tenths. It is the same for everyone though, I think everyone would hit traffic and everyone is close.

“As for tomorrow, the track is still changing a lot so I think we need to go with the track conditions and follow them instead of deciding what to do now. We have a good base and we know that we can refine some things in the car.”

And Rodriguez’s crash?

“Yes, we had some damage with Roberto but nothing critical.

“The car is fine, we changed the front end and checked all through the car. I went out in it after the team put it back together and it immediately felt OK so I tried again for a better time and was faster than before but I caught traffic.”

Anthony Davidson, the #31’s third driver was another to report his frustrations with the session:

“I only got five laps in the qualifying session and one of those was a Full Course Yellow! They were different conditions compared with Test Day and we have made some balance changes. The car feels good but we have a bit more work to do to balance the car for the race. It is a bit too aggressive from the front end so we need to calm it down for the race.

“I just hope the weather tomorrow is good enough so we can do that. We’ve also got a further read on different tyres to build on our data from the Test Day which is really important.”

Signatech Alpine pleased after strong run in Q1

Current LMP2 points leader Signatech finished the session third in class and Pierre Thiriet was looking relieved, albeit full of anticipation, at the end of the session:

“It was a good job from the team today in practice and in qualifying and from my team-mates. We are quite happy because the balance of the car is already OK, but we will see tomorrow if we can improve some more.

“We always try to put a good time in on the Wednesday qualifying session but we were not pushing as hard as we would have if we thought it was the only session where we could get a time. Nico [Lapierre] didn’t try for a better time at the end of the session, it was difficult because of the yellow flags were so close to the end.

“Second is a good place to start if it is wet and nobody can improve.

“Our biggest goal is to have a good race and run with good pace, we are not looking for pole but if we have a chance then we might take it because there is a lot of prestige in pole position at Le Mans.”

Times due to tumble again tonight?

If it stays dry tonight, there’s real potential for some blazing times.

The best sectors, added together (which admittedly is only ever a hypothetical exercise), would have produced a 3:26.292 in P2, so half a second less than DragonSpeed’s provisional time.

Maldonado only claimed the middle sector on his way to his 3:26.804, the first sector fell to Duval in the #28 TDS Racing ORECA and the final segment went to the #22 United Autosports Ligier.

In P1, #7 claimed two of the best sectors but Laurent gave Rebellion the first sector. Stringing all the best sectors together would lead to a 3:16.621, again being around half a second quicker than Kobayashi’s actual best.

Plenty to play for in GTE Pro tonight

The GTE chase for top honours in Qualifying is on, though maybe not quite in anger. As a few spots of moisture hinted disruption, so early laps set the pace throughout both GTE grids and the speculation that precedes this unpredictable race began to dissipate.

GTE-Pro seems to have sneaked manufacturer focus away from the headline prototypes and if race predictions could be formed from the first qualifying session it looked like Porsche might have this year’s 24 hours under control. Stuttgart’s three-car lock-out at the top was soon spoiled though, Alex Lynn delivering an early lap for Aston Martin that held station at the top of the GTE-Pro timing screen until a frenzy of activity in the last 5 minutes of the session. Way too early for firm conclusions, but some sort of shape still emerged.

Both Aston Martins showed well, aside from Lynn’s hot laps the confidence in the developing Vantage AMR was expressed well by all those who took the helm.
It took a while for the trailing #94 entry to join its team mates, but of the fastest six cars at the end, four were the Porsches.

All was not entirely happy though as Fred Makowiecki, fourth quickest in class and second fastest ‘Pro Porsche in the #91 car, told DSC on route to a team debrief: “I’m not happy, really. For this session, I got severe traffic and we should have been further up. Today is the first day and the qualifying at Le Mans is not the main thing, but so far we have not found the car we want. We need to work to find the key to this race.”

Referring to Nick Tandy’s second fastest time in the #93 car, he continued: “In general each crew works independently and they are obviously ahead of us, but we have to look at lap times and see how consistent we can make our pace over a double stint (rather than a single time).”

For most of the two-hour session, it looked as if the Ford Chip Ganassi Teams were some way off the pace and that the BoP hadn’t equalised things as much as had been anticipated now crews were running at pace, which was generally two or three seconds quicker than most teams’ Test and Free Practice times.

Any concern was blown away in the final few minutes of the session with Harry Tincknell’s 3:49.530 to top the time sheets. Three hundredths better than
Tandy’s flying #93 Porsche, it revealed a stealthier approach from the Multimatic team over this session.

“I knew the car was capable of mid to low .49’s and it was a good lap. We hadn’t had many test laps so it took us a while to get up to speed and to reference our braking points,” said Tincknell. “We were fourth on the road last year and had a lot of work to do and I felt some pressure to get a banker with the weather being so changeable, no one really knows how it will pan out. We’re under no illusions; we’ll have to keep working and keep up the pressure tomorrow (Thursday).”

So, Porsche were ominously consistent, kept sharp by one Ford crew and perhaps a more consistent show of pace from Aston Martin.

What of the rest?

Despite a rogue fastest lap under yellows that was immediately scrubbed by the stewards, Corvette Racing’s 20th appearance at La Sarthe was off to a decidedly low-key start. Ollie Gavin’s front right puncture and subsequent suspension inspections delayed progress for the #64 car, but Mike Rockenfeller reported though that the #63 entry was on schedule in terms of where they expected the car to be at this early stage. Work in progress, perhaps.

None of the Ferraris seemed to be looking for headlines, steady sessions putting the best #71 488 GTE EVO eighth overall for AF Corse.

Further down the pitlane, Risi Competizione had been low key too, Pipo Derani telling DSC: “Finally we managed to put some laps in, it hasn’t been an easy start for us. Unfortunately, we had an issue earlier today in the handling and we are still not sure yet what it was, some chassis related problem. We changed quite a few parts in the car and finally were able to do some laps and whatever it was, seems to have gone. So we have a baseline from which we can go forward tomorrow.”

BMW’s work was similarly low profile, though the #81 M8 GTE crept into the top ten. Nicky Catsburg summised that he thought there were easily another couple of tenths per lap in the car to come, but this seemed a little hollow given its relative difference on the overall pace at this point.

Porsche looking strong in Am

LMGTE-Am showed a shift up in performance from its Porsche entries, the new spec 911 RSRs with Dempsey Proton at the top, two seconds off the GTE-Pro ‘pole’ and splitting the premier class times. Jorg Bergmeister’s performance with the #56 Team Project 1 entry was tucked in comfortably behind as the sister #77 Dempsey car made it a 1-2-3 at the end of the session.

The nearest challenge to Porsche at this stage came from the #98 Aston Martin Vantage. At over a second shy of the class-leading #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche over a single lap, perhaps consistency is the target over the distance.

Despite strength in number, the Ferraris were not taking hold of the class at this stage. The Spirit of Race 488 GTE was the torch bearer, fifth quickest, as others spent time setting up and dialling out problems.