2017 FIA World Endurance Championship Le Mans Free Practice 1 - Craig Robertson
Tockwith Motorsports, Ligier JSP217-Gibson, LMP2, #34, Nigel Moore, Phil Hanson, Karun Chandhok, <br />
24 Hours of Le Mans  <br />
Le Mans  <br />
Circuit de la Sarthe  <br />
France  <br />
© Craig Robertson

The first practice session of the Le Mans week began under clear skies and searing heat, temperatures hitting 35c. The Tockwith Ligier posted the first time of the session, admittedly only a 3:39.332 as the drivers cautiously took to the track. The times rapidly began to fall as the track rubbered in. Nico Lapierre led the way at the half hour mark, 2.5 seconds up on Sebastien Buemi with a time of 3:22.049. Jani was just half a second back from Puemi, the Porsche driver putting in a time of 3:25.268 in his 919 hybrid. ByKolles were around 3 seconds back from Jani putting in a fastest lap of 3:28.553.

Oreca continued to dominate the LMP2 class, Julien Canal topping the time sheets early on in the #31 Vaillante Rebellion with a time of 3:35.268. Ho Pin Tung put the Jackie Chan DC Oreca fastest at the top of the hour, a second up on the Rebellion but around 6 seconds off the pace of the test day just two weeks ago.

The #8 and #9 Toyotas were fighting amongst themselves, pushing each other quicker and quicker as the session wore on, neither of the two cars able to match Buemi’s earlier time. Tandy took third spot with a 3:25.268. Tandy continued to improve as the session progressed, but at the end of the first hour, it was the #9 Toyota which led the way with the #1 Porsche 2nd, #8 Toyota 3rd, and #7 Toyota in 4th. The #2 Porsche sat 5th at this moment in time with ByKolles completing the class, Dominic Kraihamer putting in a time of 3:28.553.



Toyota Gazoo Racing, Toyota TS050-Hybrid, LMP1, #9, Nicolas Lapierre, Yuji Kunimoto, Jose Maria Lopez, <br />
24 Hours of Le Mans  <br />
Le Mans  <br />
Circuit de la Sarthe  <br />
France  <br />
© Craig Robertson

Nelson Piquet Jnr topped LMP2 in the #13 Vaillante Rebellion from the Oreca-07 of Brundle and Tung. Senna had the #31 Rebellion 4th on the time sheet. Former KCMG racer Richard Bradley led the Graff Racing entries, the #40 Oreca going one tenth quicker than Roman Rusinov in the #26 G-Drive Oreca.

The best of the Dallara entries was running 10th in the LMP2 class posting a time of 3:36.085 whilst the first of the Ligiers, the #32 United Autosport JSP217 sat 20th overall.

Shortly into the second hour, the safety car was deployed as a test, but also to allow marshals to repair damaging to the tyre barriers at Karting. The safety car remained out on track for around 20 minutes as most of the grid returned to the pits. After 90 minutes of running, Dragonspeed recorded their first time of the session, Ben Hanley posting a time of 3:39.031in the #21 as the sister car, the #22 G-Drive by Dragon Speed, had yet to set a flying lap.




Racing Team Nederland, Dallara P217-Gibson, Jan Lammers, Frits Van Eerd, Rubens Barrichello, <br />
24 Hours of Le Mans  <br />
Le Mans  <br />
Circuit de la Sarthe  <br />
France  <br />
© Craig Robertson

Le Mans rookie Rubens Barrichello put the #29 Team Nederland Dallara in the middle of the class, posting a time of 3:39.386.

Brendon Hartley was closing in on the top of the time sheets, closing the gap to just six tenths with a time of 3:23.728 with 20 laps down. Hartley was unable to find that six tenths needed to take top spot however.

In LMP2, the #22 G-Drive finally set a time in the hands of Ryo Hirakawa posting a time of 3:36.390 as the Ligiers continued to struggle, Karun Chandhok pushing the Tockwith Ligier has hard as he could, launching the Ligier over the kerbs at Ford Chicane to post a time of 3:37.913 to take 21st in class and 27th overall.

With two and half hours gone, less than a second covered the top five in LMP1, the times however, still falling far short of the predicted pole time this year of 3:17. Nick Tandy was lapping just 13 thousands slower than the #9 Toyota with Earl Bamber hot on his heels having taken the wheel of the #2 Porsche. Bamber got the lap times in early, posting a 3:21.687 to take Porsche below the 3:22 mark for the first time, the drivers however, were clearly not pushing their hardest, the third fastest time in LMP1 with 3 hours on the clock was a 3:33.049.



Porsche LMP Team, Porsche 919 Hybrid, LMP1, #1, Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer, Nick Tandy, <br />
24 Hours of Le Mans  <br />
Le Mans  <br />
Circuit de la Sarthe  <br />
France  <br />
© Craig Robertson

In LMP2, the Orecas dominated throughout the session. Former GP2 driver Alex Lynn was flying in the #26 G-Drive, knocking the Jackie Chan DC Orecas from the top spots whilst Victor Shaytar in the SMP Dallara was the highest placed non Oreca Chassis in seventh. The #21 Dragon Speed 10 Star Oreca was up to second in LMP2, Ben Hanley posting a time of 3:32.491.

As we broke into the final hour, Alex Lynn jumped to the top of the time sheets, the #26 G-Drive Oreca moving ahead of the Vaillante Rebellion with a time of 3:30.363 and with 20 minutes to go, the lap times started to tumble. Kamui Kobayashi going purple through every sector to set a time of 3:21, he continued to push but his attempts to go quicker were halted as he caught the edge of the gravel trap at the exit of Ford Chicane and spun the #7 Toyota across the track, luckily there was no damage and the car continued. Jani responded shortly after, knocking Kobayashi off the top spot by 6th tenths as the chequered flag dropped.



AF Corse, Ferrari 488 GTE, LMGTE Pro, #71, Davide Rigon, Sam Bird, Miguel Molina, <br />
24 Hours of Le Mans  <br />
Le Mans  <br />
Circuit de la Sarthe  <br />
France  <br />
© Craig Robertson

Sam Bird topped the time sheets in GTE Pro in the in the Ferrari 488 GTE, posting a time of 3:54.832. In GTE Am, it was the #98 Aston Martin in the hands of Pedro Lamy that went quickest with a time of 3:56.082. It was also announced that due to an injury sustained during a football match, Lucas di Grassi would miss the race. The former Audi driver had been drafted in as the third driver for the #51 AF Corse Ferrari. di Grassi will be replaced by Michele Rugolo.

It was a cautious start for all on track, the initial GT times hovering around the 4:00 minute, 9 seconds slower than the 2016 pole time set by the #68 Ford GT. By the end of the first hour, the times had dropped by around 4 seconds, Marco Sorensen, the first driver to drop in to the 3:56 mark with a time of 3:56.763, 7 tenths quicker than Alessandro Pier Guidi in the #51 Ferrari and 1.2 seconds up on Daniel Serra in the #97 Aston Martin.

Fernando Rees led the way early on in GTE Am in the #50 Larbre Competition Corvette from the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari and #98 Aston Martin. Christian Philippon had the first off of the session 75 minutes in. Philippon spun the car off at Porsche Curves and went in to the tyre wall backwards. Philippon managed to get the car going again and limped back to the pits. With 90 minutes gone, Sorensen still held the lead but Scott Dixon had moved up to second with Fred Makowiecki sat third in the #91 Porsche.




Corvette Racing - GM, Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, LMGTE Pro, #63, Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor,   <br />
24 Hours of Le Mans  <br />
Le Mans  <br />
Circuit de la Sarthe  <br />
France  <br />
© Craig Robertson

Jan Magnussen led the way in the third hour, the #63 Corvette holding a time of 3:56.004 in GTE Pro whilst Alvaro Parente led the way in GTE Am with a time of 3:57.797 in the #60 Clearwater Ferrari. With one hour left to run, the #95 Aston Martin with Richie Stanaway at the wheel suffered a puncture but made it back to the pits with no further damage. GTE Pro was still led by the #63 Corvette with an hour left to run, the #82 Ferrari held second whilst the #69 Ford was in third. Mean while, the order remained unchanged in GTE Am, Parente still topped the time sheets in the Clearwater Ferrari. The Larbre Competition Corvette returned to the track with 45 minutes left to run.

It was at this point that the order changed in GTE Pro, Darren Turner put the #97 Aston third in class before going quickest in class on his next lap around, the Aston Martin stalwart posting a time of 3:55.299. Lamy emulated his Pro team mate, putting the #98 fastest in GTE Am with a time of 3:56.079.



Aston Martin were quickly knocked off the top of the time sheets though with Sam Bird going quickest in class in the #71 Ferrari fastest with 30 minutes to run. Dries Vanthoor, brother of Laurens Vanthoor put the JMW Ferrari up to second in Am with a time of 3:56.082.

There was a late spin for the #67 Ford in the hands of Andy Priaulx, but no last-minute improvements, leaving the #71 Ferrari and #98 Aston topping the two GT classes ahead of Wednesday night’s qualifying. An off for the third-fastest #60 Ferrari at Mulsanne saw that sector declared a slow zone until the end of the session.