#7 Toyota ends the first day of Le Mans running on top despite crash

The #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 Hybrid of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez finished the first full day of running at the Le Mans 24 Hours on the top of the times, but lost a chunk of time after crashing into an LMP2 Oreca.

Having also led the four-hour free practice session held under mixed conditions on Wednesday afternoon, Lopez struck early in the night-time Qualifying One session to set the provisional pole-time of 3m17.161. The #7’s programme was curtailed though as it was caught out by Roberto Gonzalez in the LMP2 pace-setting DragonSpeed Oreca. Gonzalez was recovering from a spin at the Ford Chicane and pulled back on track in front of Conway, causing the Brit to smash into the nose of the LMP2. After rapid repair work, both cars managed to get back out on track – the DragonSpeed got out with 25 minutes still to run while the Toyota completed the final 16 minutes. Despite the incident, the #7 Toyota’s time beat the closest of the LMP1 privateers – the #17 SMP Racing BR1 – by half-a-second. That doesn’t tell the full story though, as the sister #11 had set the fastest time for the bulk of practice thanks to Stoffel Vandoorne, until Kobayashi’s penultimate lap put Toyota back on top by almost two seconds.

The #11 couldn’t match the same pace in the darkness, finishing P7 – behind the two eye-catchingly liveried Rebellion R13s which have both been in the top five mix throughout the day – the fastest of the Swiss cars beating the #8 Toyota of Kazuki Nakajima, Fernando Alonso and Sebastien Buemi in both sessions. The car finished fourth in both sessions after a tricky day for that entry.

Propping up the lead prototype class in both sessions was the ByKolles Enso CLM P1/01 of Paolo Ruberti, Tom Dillmann and Oli Webb.

LMP2 went the way of DragonSpeed - Pastor Maldonado’s 3m26.804 early in the session enough to keep the Signatech Alpine A470 in second by 0.131s. United Autosports claimed third at the end of day one, four-tenths behind the Alpine but half-a-second ahead of practice pace-setters IDEC Sport in a category that is shaping up to be anyone’s game come race day, with G-Drive Racing’s Aurus 01 performing strongly in the earlier session.

GTE Pro provisional pole is currently in the hands of Harry Tincknell in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT. The Brit set his lap in the dying moments of qualifying, finishing 0.028s ahead of Nick Tandy in the #93 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR ran by the CORE Autosport team.

Third went to the #97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage of Alex Lynn, Jonny Adam and Maxime Martin, with the additional three Porsche GT Team entries in fourth, fifth and sixth.

The #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche set the bar in Free Practice 1 with a time of 3:55.304 with the #54 Ferrari and #98 Aston Martin less than half a second behind. The #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche of Satoshi Hoshino caused a Fully Course Yellow after the car went off at Porsche Curves, through the gravel and into the wall. Around 45 minutes of the session was red flagged following an incident involving Tracy Krohn, the #99 Dempsey-Proton Porsche appeared to have bounced off the crash barrier several times on the approach to the second chicane. With a lack of cameras on that part of the track, it was not exactly clear what had happened but its believed that the Am driver was clipped by a faster LMP2 car. The crash damaged the chassis and whilst Porsche confirm there is a backup chassis available at Le Mans, it is unclear whether the team will use it at this stage.

In the first of the night sessions, it was the #88 Porsche that took provisional pole position with Matteo Cairoli's best time of 3:52.454. The #56 Project 1 Porsche finished second three tenths down whilst the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche took third place.