LE MANS, France (AP) — Brace for a tough fight between Porsche and Audi at the 24 Hours Le Mans this weekend.
Porsche, the most successful manufacturer at Le Mans with 16 titles, will have its trio of 919 Hybrids on the top three positions of the grid on Saturday after Neel Jani, Romain Dumas, and Marc Lieb posted the fastest time in qualifying.
Audi, which has dominated the world’s most famous endurance race over the past 15 years, sealed the next three spots.
“To be in pole position in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with a mythical brand such as Porsche, is exceptional,” Jani said.
With a fastest lap of 3 minutes 16:887 seconds at the 13.6-kilometer circuit, Jani set a new record for an LM P1 car in qualifying, and became the first Swiss driver since Jo Siffert in 1968 to secure pole position at the western France track.
“Now we are aware that the hardest is yet to come,” Jani said.
In its return to Le Mans after a 16-year absence in the top category, Porsche missed out on victory last year after its leading car was stuck in the pits because of a mechanical problem as Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer, and Benoit Treluye drove Audi to its fifth straight title.
This year is different, with the three Porsches having improved their reliability, and said to hold a speed advantage on the long straight lines of the circuit.
“People have great expectations of us, we have a sensational record here in the past,” said former Formula One driver Mark Webber, who will drive Porsche No. 17 from the second spot with Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard.
Behind them in third will be the No. 19 Porsche driven by Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Nico Hulkenberg.
“Porsche is synonymous with success here. It’s a great burden for us to carry, we’re proud of that, but it’s not something that will guarantee us results on Sunday,” Webber said.
Behind the two German manufacturers, Toyota is betting on reliability rather than speed to defy the odds, with its two hybrid cars starting from seventh and eighth.
“If we really focused on qualifying we could have been quite a bit closer, but that wasn’t the target,” said Anthony Davidson, teaming up with world endurance co-champion Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima. “We have concentrated all through the week on getting a nice balance. From the team and drivers side, we have done everything we planned to do. I feel good going into the race.”
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