The two Porsche 919 Hybrids will start third and fourth on the grid in the 85th running of the Le Mans 24-hour race on Saturday at 3pm. With a lap time of 3:17.259 minutes, Neel Jani (CH) claimed the third fastest lap overall on Thursday evening. Timo Bernhard (DE) qualified the Porsche LMP sister car to start fourth on the grid with a lap of 3:18.067 minutes on the 13.629 kilometre long Circuit des 24 Heures. Both Porsche drivers achieved their respective best lap times in the second qualifying session, held in the early evening hours in still relatively high temperatures of 25 degree Celsius ambient and 35 degree Celsius track temperatures. The third and final qualifying session lasted from 10pm until midnight. Kamui Kobayashi (JP) in the number 7 Toyota took pole-position for what is expected to be an extremely hot race weekend.
Jani shares the car number 1 Porsche Le Mans prototype with André Lotterer (DE) and Nick Tandy (GB). Bernhard’s team-mates in the car number 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid are the two New Zealanders Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley. Having a tally of 18 overall Le Mans wins, Porsche is the record holder and after the most recent victories in 2015 and 2016, is in the role of title defender.
Quotes after final qualifying:
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1: “Congratulations to Toyota and Kamui Kobayashi. We knew he would be fast but his lap was really sensational. On our side, we missed out on a front row position on the grid by a tenth of a second. Besides that, our qualifying was okay. We’re looking good over long runs and are optimistic for the race. Our target remains a third Le Mans win in a row. Thanks a lot again to the entire team for the effort so far – there is an extreme and thrilling task waiting ahead for us.”
Andreas Seidl, Team Principal: “We had another very productive day. We could optimize the cars’ set-up at various track temperatures and gained important knowledge concerning tyre choice and tyre wear for the race. Halfway through the final qualifying session, the engine temperature on the number 2 car rose. As a precaution, we stopped the car finishing the session early. Tomorrow we will dismantle the cars again, carefully inspect them, reassemble them with the final race components and try to go to sleep early. After the last two days here, we feel ready for another big Le Mans race with very strong competition.”
Drivers Porsche 919 Hybrid car number 1:
Neel Jani (33, Switzerland): “Toyota put in a great performance but we’ve been happy to concentrate on our race preparation rather than go for single ‘qually’ laps again at night. That has gone very well for us today so we’re looking good for the race.”
André Lotterer (35, Germany): “We tried different tyres on the cars, getting good information for the race, especially for the night. All in all, it worked according to plan. Neel’s qualifying lap was affected by traffic, but it is not easy to get the timing right. We cannot go the speed of the Toyotas, so I hope we can go through the race without problems.”
Nick Tandy (32, Great Britain): “We have done a really good job in race week so far. We’ve made excellent progress from the test day two weeks ago with the team working perfectly through our program over the past two days. The car is the best handling one through the corners I’ve ever had here at Le Mans which is a good sign. Our race pace is strong and is also consistent.“
Drivers Porsche 919 Hybrid car number 2
Earl Bamber (26, New Zealand): “With every lap over the past two days the car has improved. I believe we have a very good race car for the weekend. Toyota’s qualifying pace is definitely impressive but our lap times looking ahead to the actual race are very good.”
Timo Bernhard (36, Germany): “I’m really looking forward to the race and can’t wait for it to get started on Saturday afternoon. The balance of the car felt really good tonight – we’ve a really nice car for the race.”
Brendon Hartley (27, New Zealand): “We feel we have a really good race car. Timo for the fourth year in a row had traffic on his ‘qually’ lap. That was unfortunate but obviously today we saw a very good job from Toyota. The time from Kamui Kobayashi would have been hard to beat. I didn’t do many laps in the very last session because we had to stop early but we feel very happy with the race car.”