Text: Anton Andres / Photos: WEC, Ford | posted June 17, 2016 18:01
Ford tops GTE Pro class in qualifying
Neel Jani gave Porsche a strong start in this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans by garnering pole position on race day. Teammate Timo Bernhard made it a Porsche front row lock out by posting the second fastest time of the session.
Jani posted a time of 3:19.733 while Timo Bernhard was almost a half second behind at 3'20.203. Stephane Sarrazin led the charge for Toyota with a laptime of 3'20.737 while team mate Anthony Davidson finished qualifying with a best time of 3'21.903. Toyota, with their all-new TS050 racer, was one second behind the defending Le Mans champions and their two entries occupy the second row of the grid. The Audis, meanwhile qualified fifth and sixth, unable to post faster times due to the weather turning for the worse during the session.
In the LMP2 class, Team Oreca was unchallenged throughout by posting a 3'36.605 lap time with Rene Rast behind the wheel. Returning to Le Mans this year was Alpine and did well enough to qualify second and third in LMP2. Nelson Panciatici was the fastest driver for the team with a best time of 3'37.175 and fellow Alpine driver Nicholas LaPierre was close behind at 3'37.225.
50 years have passed since Ford first entered Le Mans and their comeback to the long-running endurance race showed promise when the team posted the fastest times for GTE Pro. The final 20 minutes of qualifying saw AF Course poised for pole position until Ryan Briscoe got the fastest time of the session. Briscoe's team mate, Dirk Mueller, then made a late charge and snatched pole from Briscoe. Mueller's lap time of 3'51.185 and Briscoe's time of 3'51.497 helped Ford secure a front row lock out in GTE Pro. AF Corse was bumped down to third despite the best efforts of Gianmaria Bruni, who held pole for a large part of the day with a time of 3'51.568.
First timers Clearwater Racing beat out Le Mans regulars such as Aston Martin and AF Corse. This year marks the team's first time in Le Mans. The Singapore-based team clinched pole position in its class after Rob Bell posted a time of 3'56.827 for the team. Almost a second away was Aston Martin Racing, with Pedro Lamy crossing the line at 3'57.198. The Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing Ferrari 458 qualified third for GTE-Am with a time of 3'57.596.
The 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans starts tomorrow, 3:00 PM, CEST and ends at 3:00 PM, CEST.