It’s A Porsche Surprise At Le Mans

The No. 20 Porsche on track Wednesday at Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France. (Pete Richards Photo)
The No. 20 Porsche on track Wednesday at Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France. (Pete Richards Photo)
The No. 20 Porsche on track Wednesday at Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France. (Pete Richards Photo)

LE MANS, France — The first of three qualifying sessions for the 82nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is in the books and a Porsche has pulled a minor upset.

The German manufacturer is making its first run at overall victory at la Sarthe since 1998 with the new 919 Hybrid prototype. The manufacturer is facing stout competition from Audi, which has dominated Le Mans during their sister company’s Le Mans sabbatical, and the world’s biggest automaker, Toyota.

Audi’s R-18 and Toyota’s TS-040 have proven hybrid track records and the experience to react to major rules changes for 2014. Porsche comes to the dance with a new car the 919 Hybrid that has proven less than reliable and not as fast (in out right speed) as the competition over the season’s first two races, testing and practice for Le Mans.

That was until the green flag waved on the first of three qualifying sessions. The two-hour session was shortened by two red flag incidents. Undeterred by the delays Young New Zealander Brandon Hartley, who will team with Timo Bernard and ex-Formula One star Mark Webber, set a quick lap of 3:23.157 seconds. That was seven-tenths of a second quicker than a second Porsche 919 Hybrid driven by Romain Dumas, Neal Jani and Marc Lieb.

The two Toyotas, which have dominated the World Endurance Championship and has been quickest by a large margin during all the pre-event testing and today’s first free practice, were third and fourth quick.

Looking for a 13th Le Mans victory this year, Audi had a difficult day. French star Loic Duval, a winner a year ago escaped serious injury after a major crash wrote off his No. 1 Audi R-18 at the ultra fast and dangerous Porsche Curves.

While the crews went to work to rebuild a new R-18 the two remaining cars were both more than 3.2 seconds off the pace set by Hartley and the Porsche.

Porsche’s effort only ensures the headlines in tomorrow’s press, as it must survive two more qualifying sessions on Thursday when times should continue to improve.

Provisional pole in the P2 Category went to the Morgan Nissan from the Russian G-Drive Racing driven by Le Mans veteran Julen Canel, Olivier Pla and Roman Rusinov

In the GTE Pro Category, the AF Corse Ferrari No. 51 for Jimi Bruni, Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella was four-tenths of a second quicker than the No. 97 Aston-Martin piloted by Darren Turner, Stefan Mueke and Bruno Senna. Third was the No. 92 Porsche driven by Marco Holzer, Richard Lietz and Frederic Makowiecki. Corvette Racing was fourth quick with the C7-R making its maiden Le Mans voyage.

The GTE-AM class was lead by another Russian entry this one a 458 Ferrari Andrea Bertilini setting the quick time for that car.