Le Mans Test Day: Porsche beats 2014 pole time and rivals

Porsche topped a rain-affected Test Day ahead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans on Sunday, outpacing rivals Audi and Toyota with a lap faster than last year's pole position time.

Le Mans Test Day: Porsche beats 2014 pole time and rivals
#17 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley, Frédéric Makowiecki
#9 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 e-tron quattro: René Rast, Filipe Albuquerque, Marco Bonanomi, #12 Rebellion Racing Rebellion R-One: Nicolas Prost, Nick Heidfeld, Mathias Beche, #44 Ibanez Racing ORECA 03R: Yutaka Yamagishi, Pierre Perret, José Ibanez,
#22 Nissan Motorsports Nissan GT-R LM NISMO: Harry Tincknell, Alex Buncombe, Michael Krumm
#7 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 e-tron quattro and #1 Toyota Racing Toyota TS040 Hybrid
#63 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R: Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Ryan Briscoe, #61 AF Corse Ferrari 458 GTE: Peter Ashley Mann, Raffaele Giammaria, Matteo Cressoni
#64 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R: Jordan Taylor, Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner
#12 Rebellion Racing Rebellion R-One: Nicolas Prost, Nick Heidfeld, Mathias Beche, #1 Toyota Racing Toyota TS040 Hybrid: Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson, Kazuki Nakajima, Kamui Kobayashi
#21 Nissan Motorsports Nissan GT-R LM NISMO: Tsugio Matsuda, Lucas Ordonez, Mark Shulzhitskiy
#53 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GTS-R: Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Marc Miller
#7 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 e-tron quattro: Marcel Fässler, Andre Lotterer, Benoit Tréluyer
#7 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 e-tron quattro nose detail
#48 Murphy Prototypes ORECA 03R: Nathanael Berthon, Mark Patterson, Karun Chandhok
#21 Nissan Motorsports Nissan GT-R LM NISMO: Tsugio Matsuda, Lucas Ordonez, Mark Shulzhitskiy
#28 G-Drive Racing Ligier JS P2: Ricardo Gonzalez, Pipo Derani, Gustavo Yacaman
#7 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 e-tron quattro: Marcel Fässler, Andre Lotterer, Benoit Tréluyer
#41 Greaves Motorsport Gibson 015S: Gary Hirsch, Bjorn Wirdheim
#91 Porsche Team Manthey Porsche 911 RSR: Richard Lietz, Jörg Bergmeister, Michael Christensen, Sven Müller
#43 Team SARD-Morand Morgan LM P2 EVO: Pierre Ragues, Oliver Webb, Zoel Amberg
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Porsche, chasing its 17th Le Mans victory, gave notice of intent early on when Neel Jani set the benchmark with a 3m21.945s lap in the #18 Porsche during the morning session before rain soaked the track.

In the afternoon session, the track soon dried out. At the end of the first hour, Brendon Hartley went under Jani’s morning time, stopping the clocks at a 3m21.061s.

It was however a brief window of dry running as the rain returned, scuppering a likely rapid descent of the lap times. With more favourable conditions times are expected to dip below at least the 3m16s mark in full qualifying spec.

Audi covered the most combined laps (288) of the top three manufacturers during the day as they continued to gather valuable data. The #9 Audi R18 e-tron quattro led the chase of the Porsches with Marco Bonanomi registering a 3m22.307s lap to claim P3 with a time set in the morning.

The Italian will be aiming to banish the memory of last year's race when he was unceremoniously spun out of the race by Nicolas Lapierre’s Toyota.

Formula 1 ace Nico Hulkenberg made his La Sarthe debut and quickly got up top speed, but it was his teammate Nick Tandy who set the fourth fastest combined time on 3m22.322, just 0.015s behind Bonanomi’s Audi.

Toyota were some way back from the Audis and Porsches, with its best time set by the fully-recovered Kazuki Nakajima on 3m25.321s in the afternoon session. But this was some 4.2s off the ultimate pace.

The reigning WEC champions made plenty of changes to its pair of TS 040 HYBRID challengers, but as with the majority of the field they were unable to accurately evaluate its programme effectively in the changeable conditions.

Nissan quickest through the speed trap

The three Nissan GT-R LM NISMO entries finished the day well down the order but the most talked-about car in this year’s race managed a good amount of combined laps (111).

As expected, its radical LMP1 design was the quickest through the speed traps during the day, with Olivier Pla being registered at 208mph on the Mulsanne Straight in the #23 car. This was just under 2mph quicker than the #7 Audi R18 e-tron quattro driven by Andre Lotterer.

The Nissan's performance cannot be fairly evaluated though, due to a combination of the inclement weather and the continuation of its extended test programme.

All three of the entries had some technical issues during the running, two of which briefly stranded the #22 and #23 cars out on the circuit in the morning session.

They also lost some track time while adjusting the rear-view mirrors on the car at the behest of the ACO. Once this was completed the team was frustrated by the weather, which compromised plans to evaluate different Michelin tyre compounds during the afternoon.

There was an impressive start for the new-look Rebellion R-One/AER car as they placed ninth and 11th in the LMP1 class. The ByKolles entry, which also uses an AER turbo engine, suffered damage after a puncture at Indianapolis and did not take part in the afternoon running.

Tight battle in LMP2

In LMP2 the fastest time was set by class debutant Laurens Vanthoor in the #34 Oak Racing Ligier-HPD. The  car soon hit problems however, and was forced to have an engine change at the beginning of the afternoon.

Vanthoor and teammate Chris Cumming returned to the track in the afternoon when the best time was claimed by the Murphy Prototypes Oreca-Nissan on 3m42.405s, set by Karun Chandhok.

The LMP2 class looks to be as fiercely fought as its bigger brother LMP1 class, with seven different chassis constructors filling out the top seven positions in the afternoon session.

Aston top of both GT classes

Aston Martin Racing ran out quickest in the LMGTE Pro class, with the Darren Turner, Stefan Mucke and Rob Bell Vantage V8 setting a 3m58.069s in Turner’s hands. This eclipsed the #64 Chevrolet Corvette of Oliver Gavin, who set a 3m59.162s in the morning.

Ferrari had placed 1-2-3 in the LMGTE Am class this morning with the #61 AF Corse run Ferrari 458 Italia at the top of the times with a 4m00.677s, 0.6s ahead of the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari driven by Andrea Bertolini. 1.7 seconds further back was the #83 AF Corse 458 of veteran racer Emmanuel Collard.

Current FIA WEC points leaders Matthias Lauda, Pedro Lamy and Paul Dalla Lana ultimately headed the combined session times though, with Lamy the only driver to dip under the four-minute barrier on a 3m59.338s.

Plenty of questions are still to be answered on Le Mans 2015. How much powder is being kept dry at Porsche and Audi? Who will have the better long-run pace? These questions are unlikely to be answered until midway through the race itself.

Top 10 times in LMP1:
 PosNo.CarTime
1 17 Porsche 919 Hybrid 3m21.061
2 18 Porsche 919 Hybrid 3m21.945
3 9 Audi R18 e-tron quattro 3m22.307
4 19 Porsche 919 Hybrid 3m22.322
5 7 Audi R18 e-tron quattro 3m22.930
6 8 Audi R18 e-tron quattro 3m23.002
7 1 Toyota TS 040 Hybrid 3m25.321
8 2 Toyota TS 040 Hybrid 3m26.929
9 12 Rebellion R-One-AER 3m30.508
10 4 CLM-AER 3m38.904
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Le Mans Test Day: Porsche tops morning session
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