Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian’s journey to Le Mans took a significant step forward on Wednesday when the team turned its first official laps at the historic 8.47-mile circuit. It was the first official day of on track action as teams prepare for the 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, set to begin Saturday afternoon local time (8:30 AM ET).
The Team’s Le Mans 24 Hour drivers John Pew, Ozz Negri, and Laurens Vanthoor all put in laps on Wednesday with intermittent rain falling during the first session and mostly dry running in the second session. All three drivers completed the required five nigh laps to qualify to drive in this weekend’s race.
The day first saw a 4-hr free practice session that the team used to increase its familiarity with the huge circuit, closing out the session with the 10th fastest LMP2 time. Rain slowed the proceedings at times, with dry lines also emerging during the session.
The first of three qualifying practice sessions began as darkness started to fall. Qualifying includes three qualifying practice sessions in which the best lap time set by each car among all three sessions sets the grid. The two final practice qualifying sessions will be held on Thursday evening.
Wednesday’s 6 hours of hot track time also marked the first chance for the Michael Shank Racing team to work through the intricacies of racing in a new series with a new set of rules for nearly everything, from pit stops to not spinning the tires in pit lane.
The #49 Michael Shank Racing Honda-Ligier JS P2, the only Honda-powered entry in the contest, completed 60 laps through Wednesday’s two sessions with Vanthoor posting a fast lap of 3:38.837-sec. to run fifth quickest (of 23 in-class entrants) in the qualifying practice session and fastest among the Ligiers.
“When I started the first session, the track was really dirty so it was a little difficult to work on the car,” said Vanthoor. “It rained, it dried up, it rained, it dried up, it did that maybe 10 times! It was difficult to do proper work but both John and Ozz managed to do quite a bit of laps which is important.”
Back in the paddock, the team discovered a crack in the oil pan that forced an engine change for the first-time Le Mans squad. The #49 returned to action today, running in both sessions but never besting the time it set on Wednesday. Neither, however, did anyone else and the team secured a third-row start in class for the race.
The team will have to serve an in-race 5 min stop-and-go penalty for the engine change.
The first three rows of the LMP2 grid will consist of:
#26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 05-Nissan; 3:36.605 – Roman Rusinov (Russia), Nathanael Berthon (France), Rene Rast (Germany)
#35 Baxi DC Racing Alpine A460-Nissan; 3:37.175 – David Cheng (USA), Hopin Tung (Netherlands), Nelson Panciatici (France)
#36 Signatech Alpine A460-Nissan; 3:37.225 – Gustavo Menezes (USA), Nicolas Lapierre (France), Stephane Richelmi (Monaco)
#44 Manor Oreca 05-Nissan; 3:38.037 – Tor Graves (Great Britain), Matthew Rao (Great Britain), Will Stevens (Great Britain)
#49 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2-Honda; 3:38.837 – John Pew (USA), Oswaldo Negri Jr. (Brazil), Laurens Vanthoor (Belgium)
#31 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P2-Nissan; 3:39.366 – Ryan Dalziel (Scotland), Pipo Derani (Brazil), Chris Cumming (Canada)