In the lead-up to the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans, the new Ford GT program has secured the GTE-PRO class pole 50 years after winning at Le Mans with the venerable GT40. German driver Dirk Muller logged the pole-setting 3:51.185 lap on the 8.46-mile Circuit de la Sarthe on Wednesday during the first of three qualifying sessions. Rain in the subsequent two sessions shored up Muller’s pole, which puts the #68 Ford GT at the head of the GTE field.
The sister #69 car will start alongside on the front row following Ryan Briscoe’s 3:51.497 lap, locking down the front pairing for the two IMSA-run American Chip Ganassi Racing entries. The two UK-run CGR Fords start fourth and fifth and both will share their rows with AF Corse Ferrari 488s. That just might renew the Ferrari-Ford rivalry of the 1960’s, especially with the third Ferrari from Risi Competizione starting just behind the last of the Fords. The front seven on the GTE-PRO grid are all Fords and Ferraris.
Those qualifying times come with a healthy dose of controversy over the class Balance of Performance, which keeps parity among the cars in the class through a complex formula of air intake restrictors, minimum weights, fuel capacity, and fuel-flow rates during refueling. The sudden showing of pace from Ford has prompted some cynicism from defending GTE-PRO winners Corvette Racing—who qualified at the back of the class grid—as well as the teams campaigning Porsches and Aston Martins.
This might not be the last word on it, as the Le Mans’ governing body, the ACO, have vowed to review the BoP with the possibility of making changes before the race start on Saturday.
In the thoroughbred LMP1 category, Neel Jani put the #2 Porsche 919 on pole for the second consecutive year. His 3:19.733 was considerably slower than his blinding lap in 2015, but it was good enough to clear the reset of the field. Porsche locked out the front row with the Toyota TS050’s on the second row and the Audis across the third row. The non-hybrid LMP1 Rebellion R-Ones occupy the fourth row.
Rene Rast has been incredibly fast all year in the G-Drive Oreca05-Nissan and he continued that trend by putting the Oreca on the LMP2 pole. Orecas and the identical Alpine A460s took the first four spots in the class with American teams qualifying fifth (Michael Shank Racing’s Ligier JS P2-Honda) and sixth (Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P2-Nissan). However, an engine change for the Shank Racing Ligier will cost them a five-minute stop-and-go penalty during the race.
Clearwater Racing starts on the GTE-AM pole next with their Ferrari 458 thanks to Rob Bell’s 3:56.827. The #98 Aston Martin Vantage V8, one of the favorites to win, will start next to Clearwater while American Patrick Long put the #88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Porsche 911 RSR third in class with one of the few strong laps in the 20 minutes of dry running during the second qualifying session on Thursday.
The race starts Saturday at 9 a.m. ET. Click here for BangShift’s Resource Guide and Preview for more on the coverage and a preview of the American teams, cars, and rivals in the race.