24-Hour Le Mans 2015: Target 1 Achieved – Big Time
From Brian Laban, at Le Mans
Barring some very strange twist indeed, we can finally say with a degree of certainty (more or less a put-the-mortgage-on-it degree) that a Porsche will be on pole for the 83rd 24 Hours of Le Mans – their seventeenth pole in the 65 years since they made their first appearance in 1951, with a specially-bodied 356 (which won its class. . .)
Again so far as anything is ever certain at Le Mans, we can probably also say that it will be the number 18 919 Hybrid that Neel Jani took round the 13.629km circuit in 3m 16.887s on his first flying lap of qualifying, a few minutes after ten o’clock last night. Because weather conditions then were the best they’ve been in fourteen hours running to date, from Test Day, through Free Practice to First Qualifying proper; and for the remaining two two-hour sessions up to midnight tonight, the rain promises to be back to pee on the party again.
That’s a shame, because given another ideal run, one or other of the Porsche prototype drivers might have shaved a smidgeon more off, as Jani had to deal with at least a couple of slower cars on his demon lap, and reckoned himself that there was a bit more in it.
But while we’re unlikely ever to know the truth of that, what we can definitely say is that this was the fastest ever lap of the Le Mans circuit in this configuration (by more than 1.6 seconds) and edging closer to Porsche’s own all-time, all-circuit-variations, pre-chicanes 1985 mark of 3m 14.88s – set by Hans Stuck in the 962, and big buzz target of 2015.
We can also say that the 17 and 19 919 Hybrids were comfortably second and third fastest, ahead of three Audis and two still struggling Toyotas, with the too-new Nissans putting even Toyotas head-scratching into perspective, 20-plus seconds off pole pace.
But impressive as the gaps are, Porsche to Audi and the rest, it doesn’t mean Porsche can count on adding a seventeenth outright race win to that seventeenth pole. Being the only manufacturer hybrid running the maximum allowable 8MJ energy recovery means a significant one-lap advantage, but not necessarily a comparable long-stint or whole-race edge. Not to mention a million other variables like tyre life, fuel stints, reliability, you name it.
So it’s Round 1 to Porsche, in very convincing style, but so far, that’s all it is – a very promising pointer, but just a pointer.