The annual curtain raiser for the Le Mans 24 Hours race week is test day. This is chance for teams and drivers to experience the unique Le Mans track before the racing starts in earnest. Although many of the sixty cars have been running in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the Le Mans test enables teams to practice in the new environment of Le Mans and try different aero packages and set ups before race week and the race itself on the 17th & 18th June.
The Le Mans test has become an event in itself and more than 20,000 spectators were in attendance to watch the cars take to the full 13.6km circuit. It is often difficult to deduce much from the results of Test day, after all the laps are not competitive and it is unclear what fuel and tyres are being used during a particular session. However, Toyota will no doubt be pleased with their day’s work as not only did they set the best time of the day; a rapid 3 minutes & 18.132 seconds, but they also registered a 1-2-3 at the top of the time sheets at the end of the day.
Porsche will be relatively pleased with their efforts, having had to perform an engine between the two practice sessions. This reduced the track time available to them and they managed 32 less laps in their No. 2 car compared to Toyota’s No. 9. Porsche will rather sort out those gremlins during test than have to do something similar in race week. The difference between the quickest Porsche and the slowest Toyota was just over half a second, so we can expect a close battle at the front of grid come race weekend.
The speed of the new LMP2 cars was there for all to see. The fastest of which was the No. 35 Signatech Alpine which clocked 3 minutes, 28.146 seconds. There was a flurry of quick times towards the end of Le Mans test day, that saw second in class taken by the No. 24 Manor Racing Oreca and then third by No. 37 Jackie Chan DC Racing. Interestingly all of the top 13 cars were Gibson powered Oreca chassis.
Another engine change was required by the Corvette Racing team in GTE Pro. They performed a remarkably quick 90 minute turnaround on the No.64 car, mid-session, before setting the fastest time in the class at 3 minutes, 54.996 seconds. The two new Porsche 911 RSRs had previously dominated the timing screens and they ended the day second and third ahead of the second Corvette. Perhaps surprisingly the Ferraris and Fords weren’t able to compete with this pace, although they both could have been leaving their best times for race week.
Just a 10th of a second separated the first two cars in the GTE Am class. Aston Martin Racing secured top spot on the timing sheets with a 3 minute, 58.250 seconds lap ahead of the Labre Corvette. The No. 77 Proton Porsche rounded out the quickest 3 place GTE Am.
Race week will begin on the 11th June, when scrutineering for the Le Mans 24 Hours will begin. The cars will return to the track on Wednesday & Thursday 14th & 15th June, before the race itself on the 17th & 18th June 2017.
Written by Richard Webb
Photography by Dailysportscar