Nov 20, 2023
Ferrari Scores Historic Front
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8 June 2023, 8:19 PM
For the first time in 50 years, a Ferrari will lead the field to the green flag in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Antonio Fuoco took a sensational pole position during Hyperpole Qualifying on Thursday evening, to lead a front-row lockout from Ferrari AF Corse and its two new Ferrari 499P Hypercars.
But the job is far from finished – the centenary edition of the Grand Prix d’Endurance will test the world-famous Italian marque like nothing it has experienced in several generations.
The two Ferraris went out at the start of the 30-minute Hyperpole session and immediately set a sensational pace.
Alessandro Pier Guidi set a 3:23.897 on his first flying lap aboard the #51 Ferrari, but on the next circuit, Fuoco responded with a 3:23.905, getting to within a splitter's length of his senior stablemate.
After a pit stop and a change of tyres, the red and yellow Ferraris went back out for their second attack laps. Pier Guidi showed flashes of what was capable from the 499P, but he strayed too far beyond the white line at Karting Corner, and a sensational 3:23.478 was struck from the books. He still had provisional pole in hand, but Fuoco would have one more chance to respond.
Fuoco strung together sensational first and second sectors, and even though he caught Yorikatsu Tsujiko's GTE-class Ferrari 488 at the worst time between Indianapolis and Arnage, his final sector was good enough to complete a masterful 3:22.982!
With five minutes and 15 seconds left, there was a red flag: The #3 Cadillac Racing V-Series.R of Le Mans native Sebastien Bourdais came to a stop and caught fire at the first Mulsanne Chicane. Bourdais was able to get out of it okay as marshalls extinguished the flame.
Both Ferraris stood on their times when the session resumed with time for one more attack from the two Toyota Gazoo Racing GR010 Hybrids, but the best efforts of Brendon Hartley and Kamui Kobayashi just weren't enough to break up the Ferrari front-row lockout.
50 years on from Arturo Merzario winning the pole in 1973 in a Ferrari 312 PB – the last Ferrari factory sports car racing programme to compete for overall victory – it's Fuoco in #50 who has grabbed the headlines and won the first skirmish ahead of the great battle to come, together with co-drivers Miguel Molina and Nicklas Nielsen who celebrated from within their garage.
Fuoco's lap was nearly a full second faster than the previous qualifying lap record set in the admittedly-young history of the Le Mans Hypercar class – that was a 3:23.900, set by the Mk.I Toyota GR010 Hybrid in 2021.
"It's something special that I still can't take in at the moment," said Fuoco after the session.
"I was a bit worried when I saw the car between Indianapolis and Arnage. I saw that I didn't lose much time, so it was good. And then I had a couple LMP2s in front, but they were on an out lap, so they moved. So it was quite a clean lap.
"I just want to enjoy the moment with the guys. We have one day off where we can relax a bit, and then we need to be ready for the race. Starting in front is always a good thing, but we also know that 24 hours is quite long. So we need to be perfect throughout the race and try to do our best."
In the sister car Pier Guidi was able to improve his best time to a 3:23.755 and consolidate second place on the grid alongside co-drivers James Calado and Antonio Giovinazzi.
Hartley gave it his all aboard the #8 Toyota, and timed in with a 3:24.451 at the chequered flag to put he, Sebastien Buemi, and Ryo Hirakawa – last year's winning trio – third on the grid. But a Toyota second-row lockout was not to be!
Porsche Penske Motorsports gambled by forgoing the first half of Hyperpole, but with his one and only attack lap, Felipe Nasr put the #75 Porsche 963 fourth on the grid with a 3:24.531, a great result for "the third car" shared with fellow IMSA GTP drivers Mathieu Jaminet and Nick Tandy.
Kamui Kobayashi's lap of 3:24.933 would put the #7 Toyota fifth on the grid.
Earl Bamber was sixth-fastest aboard the "blue deuce" #2 Cadillac, and Frederic Makowiecki was seventh in the #5 Porsche.
But oh, what heartache it was for Bourdais. He was sitting third on the timesheets when his gold #3 Cadillac caught fire, and because that brought out a red flag, he lost his fast lap of 3:24.908 – and dropped to eighth place at the end.
Keeping a theme of historic marques excelling in Hyperpole, the Delage-sponsored #48 IDEC Sport Oreca 07-Gibson of Paul-Loup Chatin won pole position in the LMP2 category.
Chatin interjected himself into the conversation right away, taking provisional pole with a quick time of 3:33.879.
Not satisfied, the Frenchman improved on his second attack and reset the benchmark further out of reach, turning in a 3:32.923 to go quickest, ahead of Pietro Fittipaldi in the #28 Jota Oreca – who had, to this point, been the fastest combination of driver and car in the class all weekend.
The restart after the red flag gave Fittipaldi one more chance to displace Chatin from the top, but at the chequered flag, a 3:33.035 just wasn't good enough – 0.112 seconds short.
That places "PLC", Laurents Horr, and Paul Lafargue on the pole for the 24-deep LMP2 class, ahead of Fittipaldi, Oliver Rasmussen, and David Heinemeier Hansson.
Louis Deletraz was third-quickest in the #41 Team WRT Oreca, and Reshad de Gerus was fourth in the #47 COOL Racing Oreca – the top four covered by six-tenths of a second. Mirko Bortolotti completed the top five in the #63 Prema Oreca.
In the first LMP2 Pro-Am effort to make Hyperpole, Ben Hanley was sixth in the gold #14 Nielsen Racing Oreca, followed by Bent Viscaal in the #9 Prema Oreca, and Gabriel Aubry in the #10 Vector Sport Oreca.
In LMGTE-Am Corvette Racing will start the 91st edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans from pole position.
Ben Keating confidently topped the time sheets on every lap. The affable Bronze driver had the job done with the 3:53.092 posted in the Corvette C8.R just before the red flag interruption. Coming back at the restart it seemed to be all over, but Keating pressed on in the #33 car to burn a further seven-tenths off an already impressive fastest lap. 3:52.376 was the pole time.
With the AF Corse run Ferraris of Thomas Flohr and Luis Perez Companc in early pursuit, their two seconds a lap deficit never had the measure of the Corvette. It was only Ahmad Al Harthy in the ORT by TF Aston Martin that came within reach, a 3:53.905 putting the Omani driver into second place on his third lap.
Thomas Flohr's 3:54.582 kept the #54 AF Corse Ferrari third but showed the difference over a flying lap between the venerable GTE Ferrari and the slightly more contemporary Corvette.
AF Corse also took fourth and fifth, Julien Piguet in the #21 and Luis Perez Companc in the #83 Ferrari 488 GTE EVOs.
"Ben just keeps delivering," said Keating's teammate Nicky Catsburg. "He was under pressure but he even came close to beating my time. To go into this race with our Bronze driver in that form is really incredible."
HYPERPOLE TIMES >>
Tagged with: Martin Little, RJ O'Connell
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by Stephen Kilbey 8 June 2023 0 Comments
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