Vanthoor sets the pace with BMW in opening Le Mans qualifying session

BMW Team WRT’s No. 15 M Hybrid V8 was a surprising pacesetter in Wednesday evening’s hour-long Le Mans qualifying session at the Circuit de La Sarthe, which saw the fastest eight cars in each category book a place for tomorrow’s Hyperpole shootout.

With Hyperpole spaces on the line teams began to turn up the wick considerably, with multiple cars immediately setting their best times of the week in all three categories once the lights went green at the pit exit.

Dries Vanthoor’s session-best lap in the No. 15, a 3m24.642s, came with under 10 minutes to go and is the best time of the event so far. But last year’s pole time of 3m22.9s suggests there’s still more to come tomorrow on a clearer track during the shootout. 


“We are happy about this quali lap from Dries,” said WRT’s Vincent Vosse. “It has been a very strong lap with an incredible third sector. We know that it is not so very important for the race. There is still Hyperpole tomorrow. Maybe everyone has still there and there to gain something, so everything within the top 8 will be relaunched tomorrow. We also have to be fair that the last two minutes with the red flag helped us. On the other hand it’s a great feeling for the guys who have a very hard job over the last year with the car and to see the car here on provisional pole is a great feeling for the team and of course for BMW M and BMW M Motorsport.”

Cadillac’s Ganassi-run No. 3 V-Series.R came closest with an impressive 3m24.642s from local hero Sebastien Bourdais, while the No. 50 Ferrari AF Corse 499P ended up third after Antonio Fuoco’s efforts.

“Not too shabby for a 45-year-old,” said Bourdais. “I’m really happy for the whole team. It was really difficult conditions. The first attempt I said ‘let’s go’ and didn’t back off. I got unlucky in the last sector, lost three-tenths because of a P2 car, but nevertheless a really solid lap. There was one shot and then after that there was traffic everywhere and people taking chances that would mess up your lap. I’m happy for the crew and for Cadillac. We’ll see about Hyperpole. 

“You don’t know what’s going to happen with track conditions. But today was a good starting point. We made some changes after the afternoon practice and the car was really amazing.”

Outside the top three, the No. 7 Toyota Gazoo Racing GR010 HYBRID ended up taking fourth. However, Kamui Kobayashi brought out red flags while trying to improve his time with three minutes to go after an off at the Porsche Curves which left him stranded in the gravel. The car’s times were subsequently deleted from the session for causing the red, and it has been moved to the rear of the Hypercar grid.

The other cars that made the cut were the No. 35 Alpine after a strong performance from Paul Loup Chatin, the No. 2 Cadillac driven by Alex Lynn, the No. 51 Ferrari, No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport 963, and the Spa-winning No.12 Hertz Team JOTA Porsche.

With the Hypercar field so deep, many high-profile cars failed to make the cut.

Coincidentally the red flag caused by the No. 7 prevented a final improvement from Brendon Hartley in the No. 8 sister Toyota. The Kiwi ended up forced to settle for 12th, much to the frustration of engineers on the strategy desk.

Two of the three Penske Porsches, the No. 5 and No. 4, also didn’t make it through, nor did any of the privateer 963s run by JOTA and Proton. That made for a rather disappointing session for the German manufacturer.

The No. 20 WRT BMW could only manage 18th, while the Whelen Cadillac Racing V-Series.R missed out by more than a second, Pipo Derani struggling for pace and ending up 19th.

It was a tough hour for Peugeot TotalEnergies too, its 2024 9X8s 16th and 21st.

In LMP2 it was COOL Racing’s No. 37 ORECA that set the fastest time, Peugeot reserve driver Malthe Jakobsen setting a 3m32.827s. He was the only driver to set a time under 3m33s.

Remarkably, the pace in LMP2 was so rapid that all eight ORECAs which made it into Hyperpole bettered last year’s class qualifying practice benchmark of 3m34.7s.

The ‘Spike’-liveried AO by TF ORECA ended up second and quickest of the P2 Pro/Am runners with a 3m33.134s, marginally quicker than the No. 24 United ORECA which took third.

Panis Racing, IDEC Sport, Vector Sport, DKR Engineering and United’s second ORECA also made it in.

The No. 183 AF Corse ORECA, which won the LMP2 Pro/Am title in the ELMS last year, came close but couldn’t sneak in with a Nico Varrone flyer.

Last year’s Le Mans class winner, Inter Europol Competition, also missed the cut and will start 11th in the category.

LMGT3 turned into a Ford vs McLaren duel, with the ‘Blue Oval’ coming out on top. The No. 77 example from Proton Competition, steered by factory driver Ben Barker, pipped the No. 70 Inception Racing McLaren GT3 EVO to the top spot by under 0.2s.

A flex of the muscles from Daniel Juncadella saw TF Sport’s No. 82 Corvette Z06 LMGT3.R take third with a 3m56.105s, while Franck Perera put the No. 60 Iron Lynx Lamborghini into the top fourth.

“I was pushing the limits a lot in that session,” Juncadella said. “We used three sets of tires, so tells you a lot. But that was the effort we had to do in order to make Hyperpole, and it was that last-minute lap that got us in. I’m very happy with that, for sure.”

It wasn’t looking good for the WEC points leaders at Manthey Pure Rxcing for much of the hour, the car sitting ninth before the final flurry of fast times came in at the end. Klaus Bachler though, came to the rescue for the Lithuanian-flagged team and ended up rising to fifth with his final improvement.

The remaining Hyperpole spots went to the Aston Martin Vantages from Heart of Racing and D’Station Racing and the JMW Ferrari.

Outside the top eight, it was heartbreak for the Iron Dames crew, who will start ninth. Michelle Gatting couldn’t better fellow Dane Marco Sorensen to make it through, missing out by less than a tenth.

United Autosports will also be disappointed to have missed out with its McLarens, as will GR Racing which failed to make it out of the garage due to an engine issue.

Next up is Free Practice 2 at 22:00 local time.


Story originally appeared on Racer