Before we arrived in Le Mans for the start of the 2019 week of activities, we knew that the weather was going to be very changeable. Unfortunately we got to our administrative registration too late in the day to still make Sunday’s scrutineering session, but we made it to the Monday session bright and early. True to form, and as expected, the day comprised equal amounts of sunshine and showers, as though the city of Le Mans was giving us a traditional welcome. Our preview of the week so far consists of a bit about scrutineering, our activities on Tuesday, as well as First Practice (FP1) and the first Qualifying session (Q1).
Scrutineering took place in the Place de la République, in the centre of the city. It is a colourful and jovial affair for the spectators at least, perhaps less so for the teams and crew who must push the cars around whether in sunshine or pouring rain. The ACO really does put on a show for the spectators, including a live Q+A session with the drivers just before their car gets the once over from the officials. Most of the event’s happenings take place in full view of the public, apart from the actual technical inspection which is roped off so that the officials can do their job in peace.
After the cars have completed their inspection, they are wheeled out into a display area where the team and drivers take their turn for a family portrait, and then the crowds demand their turn for autographs and selfies. This is a fun part and some of the spectators have been coming to this event for decades, and could probably tell stories about the great drivers from the ’70s and ’80s. The drivers always give time to sign autographs, have selfies taken and shake hands with the assembled folk in wheelchairs, who occupy the front row in front of the media platform. This is a very special moment for many of the drivers as they are able to give a little attention to those who would otherwise not get to experience the Le Mans spectacle.
Tuesday is always a day with no track action, but there was plenty going on inside the pit garages for the teams as they were preparing their cars for action the following day. The pit lane was open in the afternoon for a drivers’ autograph session, which was very wet indeed. The day of course was sprinkled with intermittent showers and drivers’ and team photographs followed in between the showers.
Free Practice 1
The first track action was the FP1 session which took place between 16h00 and 20h00 on Wednesday. Of course all the photographers, whose job it was to catch all the action on camera, looked skywards as they headed out for their chosen spot to stand for FP1. The sun was shining as we headed out, but the dark clouds loomed ominously overhead. FP1 is really just an opportunity for the drivers and crew to get a feel for their car on track, check settings and make adjustments accordingly. So it makes little sense to try and analyse the lap times, because that is what Qualifying is for.
The FP1 session was red flagged at around the halfway point, when there was a coming together between the #99 Krohn Racing Porsche GTE Am car driven by Tracy Krohn, and an LMP car, between the first and second chicane on the Mulsanne Straight. Although the TV footage showed an alleged incident where the LMP car touched the #99 Porsche, sending it into the barrier at high speed, the details of the incident still need to be clarified. However, following a quick visit to the Krohn Racing garage at the end of FP1, I was told that it was still too early to comment but that Tracy Krohn had been taken to the hospital for checks. It was also too early for the team to comment on the damage to the Porsche, as they were still assessing the situation.
For the record, in FP1, the fastest LMP1 car was the #7 Toyota of Conway/Kobayashi/Lopez (3:18.091); the fastest LMP2 car was the #48 IDEC Sport Oreca 07 Gibson of Lafargue/Chatin/Rojas (3:28.363); the fastest GTE Pro car was the #92 Porsche RSR of Christensen/Estre/Vanthoor (3:52.149); and the top GTE Am car was the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche RSR of Campbell/Ried/Andlauer (3:55.304).
Q1 started at 22h00 under dry conditions but with a very threatening sky. With around 30 minutes on the clock, the #7 Toyota headed the leaderboard in LMP1 followed by the #17 SMP Racing and the #10 DragonSpeed car. At this time a Full Course Yellow (FCY) was shown but fairly quickly the track went green again as the #31 DragonSpeed topped the LMP2 class, while the #97 Aston Martin led a trio of Porsches in GTE Pro (#91, #92 and #93). In the GTE Am class it was the # Dempsey-Proton Porsche that led from the #56 Project 1 Porsche.
Competition was extremely high across all classes, so much so that team masseurs could be seen giving their drivers a final rub down in the pit garage prior to their stint behind the wheel. Oddly enough, three of the Ford GTs were running down in 11-12-13th position as the halfway mark of Q1 approached. As the first hour of the two-hour Q1 session came up, and still under dry conditions, the positions remained unchanged from those listed above.
With just 45 minutes left in the session, there was a big impact between the #7 Toyota (Mike Conway) and the #31 LMP2 car (Roberta Gonzales) in the Ford chicane, an almost head-on contact. The #31 car was straddling the track having spun just at the beginning of the Ford chicane, and the Toyota appeared at speed and contact was made. The contact was severe, but fortunately both cars were able to make it into the pit lane entrance without too much difficulty. Initial impressions were that damage was limited, but more will be revealed later. As the dust was settling from the previous incident, the #8 Toyota with Fernando Alonso behind the wheel was struck by the #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, also in the Ford chicane – not a good chicane for Toyota!
Despite these impacts involving both Toyotas, the positions at the top of each class remained largely unchanged, except for the GTE Pro class, where the #63 Corvette slipped into the lead pushing the #97 Aston Martin into second place and the #91 Porsche into third place. With only ten to fifteen minutes of repair work done, the #31 and #7 cars were wheeled out of their respective garages and went back out on track. With just 25 minutes remaining in Q1, the #66 Ford spun and crashed heavily, rear-first, into the tyre barrier at Karting – no further details were available.
But it was in GTE Pro where all the action was, making it hard to keep up with the changes that were happening. The #67 Ford (Harry Tincknall) posted the fastest time in class in the dying minutes, with the #93 Porsche (Nick Tandy) in second, the #97 Aston Martin (Maxime Martin) in third place, followed by three Porsches (#91, #94 and #92). In the GTE Am class, three Porsches locked out the class – they are: #88 Dempsey-Proton (Matteo Cairoli), #56 Project 1 (Patrick Lindsey) and #77 Dempsey-Proton (Julien Andlauer).
As this article is being written, the weather forecast tells us that the heavy overcast conditions are meant to clear away for a largely clear day, slightly warmer than Wednesday. Qualifying 2 (Q2) is scheduled for 19h00 to 21h00 and 22h00 to 24h00 this evening. Watch this space, more to follow later!
The latest on the condition of Tracy Krohn (#99 Porsche RSR) is that he is well and resting today awaiting clearance from the doctors to drive in the race.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale, Porsche Motorsport