Porsche was the surprise practice pacesetter for the Le Mans 24 Hours, with Neel Jani setting the fastest lap of the session with just five minutes to go.
It had looked like Toyota would continue to set the pace after dominating the pre-event test day, but Jani’s 3m20.362s in the dying moments of practice provided a boost to Porsche ahead of qualifying.
The #1 919 Hybrid finished up 0.604s faster than Kamui Kobayashi in the #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid.
The Japanese driver only joined the fray with 45 minutes of the four-hour long session to go and was instantly on the pace, setting a 3m20.996s lap to put the #7 TS050 Hybrid car fastest.
Kobayashi then spun exiting the final corner when trying to find further time, and had to settle for second best.
The #9 Toyota in the hands of marque returnee Nicolas Lapierre was at the head of the leaderboard for the majority of the session with a time set very early on.
But he was then demoted down the order by the #2 Porsche with 2015 winner Earl Bamber at the wheel of the 919 Hybrid.
Bamber finished third on a 3m21.687s, 1.3s down on Jani, and less than a tenth of a second ahead of Sebastien Buemi in the #8 machine.
All five of the manufacturer cars finished with times relatively close together with Lapierre ending up fifth and only 1.6s behind Jani.
The ByKolles ENSO CLM completed the sextet of LMP1 cars but only set 24 laps, with fluid reported to be leaking from it.
Its best time of 3m27.828s was some 6.8s slower than Kobayashi, but was still some three seconds quicker than the fastest LMP2 machine.
Lynn tops LMP2 for G-Drive
Former Williams junior Formula 1 driver Alex Lynn set the pace in LMP2 driving the #26 G-Drive Oreca.
He went top with just under 40 minutes remaining in the TDS Racing-run machine with a time of 3m30.363s.
This relegated the #13 Rebellion Oreca, which had held top spot for over two hours thanks to the pace first of Nelson Piquet Jr and then Mathias Beche, to second place.
The Rebellion car was 1.3s slower than Lynn, with the sister #31 car third fastest in the hands of Bruno Senna and less than a tenth further behind.
Having mixed it near the top of the timesheets for the first three hours of the session, the Jackie Chan DC Racing Orecas ended up fourth and fifth.
Ho-Pin Tung ensured the #38 machine that won the Silverstone FIA WEC opener was the faster of the two, with Tristan Gommendy setting a time good enough for fifth during the final hour.
This shuffled the #21 DragonSpeed Oreca, which had been as high as second in the hands of Ben Hanley, down to sixth by the chequered flag.
The best non-Oreca was the #27 SMP Dallara, which ended up 10th thanks to Victor Shaytar’s lap just over four seconds off the pace.
The best of the Ligiers was the #32 United Autosports entry of Filipe Albuquerque in 16th. The sole Riley Mk30, run by Keating Motorsports, was slowest.
Former Ferrari Formula 1 ace Rubens Barrichello was 19th quickest on his Le Mans 24 Hours debut in the #29 Racing Team Nederland Dallara he shares with 1988 winner Jan Lammers.
Ferrari heads GTE Pro battle
Ferrari ultimately set the pace in GTE Pro courtesy of a late flyer by Sam Bird in the #71 AF Corse 488 he shares with Davide Rigon and Miguel Molina, but Aston Martin and Chevrolet led the majority of the running.
The #95 Aston Martin flew early on in the hands of Marco Sorensen, leading for much of the first half of the session, but was eventually outpaced by Chevrolet, Ferrari and Ford and then suffered a rear-left puncture at the end of the third hour while Richie Stanaway was at the wheel.
After keeping a low profile during the first two hours of the session, Chevrolet picked up the pace and a 3m56.004s lap set by Jan Magnussen at the end of the third hour stood as the fastest time of all - until Darren Turner beat it with a 3m55.299s in the #97 Aston during the last half hour.
Bird then brought Turner’s tenure at the top to an end with a 3m54.832s, but the #51 AF Corse couldn’t quite match the sister car’s pace in spite of the best efforts of James Calado, whose late 3m55.504s was good for third.
The #95 Aston returned to the track in the hands of Nicki Thiim, who demoted the Magnussen/Garcia/Taylor car to fifth with a 3m55.925s in the final half hour.
In GTE Am, Aston Martin’s factory-entered #98 Vantage shared by Mathias Lauda, Paul Dalla Lana and Pedro Lamy set the early pace in the hands of Lauda before being supplanted by a flying Fernando Rees in the #50 Larbre Competition Corvette, whose 3m58.234 was faster than anything the works Chevrolets running in the Pro class could manage.
Rees handed over to Le Mans first-timer Christian Philippon, who promptly shunted the car at the exit of the Porsche Curves.
Larbre remained at the top of the timesheets for a further hour while the car sat in the garage before Alvaro Parente beat Rees’s time in the #60 Clearwater Racing Ferrari. That car later suffered a front-left puncture at the end of the third hour while still leading the class.
In the final hour Lamy returned the #98 Aston to the top with a 3m56.082s lap that remained the benchmark until the end of the session.
Practice results (top 10):
|1||1|| Andre Lotterer
|Porsche 919 Hybrid||LMP1||3'20.362|
|2||7|| Stéphane Sarrazin
|Toyota TS050 Hybrid||LMP1||3'20.966||0.604|
|3||2|| Timo Bernhard
|Porsche 919 Hybrid||LMP1||3'21.687||1.325|
|4||8|| Anthony Davidson
|Toyota TS050 Hybrid||LMP1||3'21.775||1.413|
|5||9|| Nicolas Lapierre
Jose Maria Lopez
|Toyota TS050 Hybrid||LMP1||3'21.975||1.613|
|6||4|| Marco Bonanomi
|ENSO CLM P1/01||LMP1||3'27.828||7.466|
|7||26|| Roman Rusinov
|8||13|| Nelson Piquet Jr.
David Heinemeier Hansson
|9||31|| Bruno Senna
|10||38|| Oliver Jarvis
Click HERE for full session results.
Report by Stephen Lickorish, Edd Straw and Stuart Codling