IN THIS ISSUE
Ford and Ferrari fight over pace
A Balance of Performance row overshadowed the GTE battle at the Le Mans 24 Hours, which was dominated by Ford and Ferrari.
The new-for-2016 turbocharged Ford GTS and Ferrari 488 GTES blocked out the first seven positions in the 14-strong class in qualifying, with next-best manufacturer Porsche 3.8 seconds off the pace in eighth.
Dirk Muller’s pole lap of 3m51.185s was 4.9 seconds faster than Ford managed on the test day, leading to allegations of sandbagging – something the American manufacturer vehemently denied.
Muller’s time was 3.8s quicker than last year’s pole time, with the general 2016 upgrades for GTE Pro cars thought to account for half of that time.
Porsche made a marginal improvement from last year’s qualifying times but the Astons and Corvettes were slower, and Ford driver Richard Westbrook said the onus should be on the lack of performance from those three manufacturers, all of which are running upgraded machinery.
“The big mystery to me was where was everyone else?” he said after the opening qualifying session. “It’s shocking they haven’t progressed. It’s been strange.
“I wasn’t surprised by the time at all – we’ve got a huge diffuser and more power so these times were predicted.”
Adverse weather conditions meant the three slower manufacturers did not get chance to improve their times in the second and third qualifying sessions, but the World Endurance Championship rulemakers still acted.
The performance of the Fords and the Ferraris, the best of which qualified third, led to the ACO and FIA making a BOP change on Friday, the day after the event’s final qualifying session.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s four Fords had their minimum weight raised by 10kg, while engine power was also cut with a revised table of turbo boost ratios.
The three Ferraris, two run by the factory AF Corse team and one by Risi Competizione, had 15kg added to their minimum weight while the Aston Martins and Chevrolet Corvettes left trailing in the wake of the class pacesetters were given performance breaks.
The Aston Martin Vantage GTE and Chevrolet Corvette C7.R were allowed an engine air-restrictor 0.2mm larger in diameter.
But the changes made no difference to the story of the race, in which the Fords and Ferraris remained in a class of their own.
Aside from an early rally from Porsche in the wet conditions the race was dominated by the two manufacturers, with Ford’s #68 GT besting the Risi Competizione-run 488 GTE.
Fords also finished third and fourth, with the best of the rest the twice-lapped Aston Martin Racing Vantage of Darren Turner, Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen in fifth.
Despite the BOP changes, the quickest Ford came close to matching the pole time, with Indycar legend Scott Dixon setting the race’s fastest lap on a 3m51.514s.
Three of the Fords were in the 3m51s in the race, while the Risi Ferrari and quicker of the two works 488s – both of which retired – were in the 3m52s.
The quickest representatives from Aston, Porsche and Chevrolet remained at least two seconds off the pace.