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Jani’s Porsche, Mueller’s Ford headline provisional Le Mans polesitters

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Two iconic manufacturers have the provisional poles in the marquee classes for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Neel Jani, last year’s overall polesitter, has the provisional top spot overall and in LMP1 this year in the No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid with a best time of 3:19.733 around the 8.4-mile Circuit de la Sarthe.

But the bigger story comes in GTE-Pro, where Ford has – for the moment – appeared to play the Balance of Performance game to its advantage with locking out four of the top five positions on the provisional grid. The manufacturer makes its much trumpeted return to Le Mans as a factory effort this year on the 50th anniversary of its 1966 win with the original Ford GT.

Dirk Mueller was best of the Fords in the No. 68 Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA Ford GT at a 3:51.185, that coming on the car’s 22nd and final lap of the two-hour provisional qualifying session.

Other provisional polesitters included Rene Rast in the No. 26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 05 Nissan in LMP2 (3:36.605) and Rob Bell in the No. 61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari F458 Italia in GTE-Am (3:56.827).

With rain a distinct possibility for Thursday’s pair of two hour sessions, which run from 7 to 9 and 10 to 12 p.m. local time, respectively, there is a very good chance that these times set the grid for Saturday’s 84th running of the French endurance classic.

Brief class breakdowns are below:

LMP1

  • It’s a ‘”Noah’s Ark” style provisional grid with two Porsches, then two Toyota TS050 Hybrids and two Audi R18s, before the two privateer Rebellion R-One AERs. The ByKolles CLM P1/01 AER didn’t get out during the session after a fire in free practice.
  • Per Radio Le Mans, the Audis were delayed out in the session.

LMP2

  • The top four cars are Oreca 05 variants – two Oreca 05s and the rebadged Alpine A460s – with the top Ligier the lone Ligier JS P2 Honda in the field, courtesy of a flier from Laurens Vanthoor in the No. 49 Michael Shank Racing car.
  • The No. 31 Tequila Patron ESM Ligier JS P2 Nissan – which runs in white and black Paul Mitchell colors this race owing to alcoholic restrictions – was sixth.
  • The top open-top car was the No. 42 Strakka Racing Gibson 015S Nissan in eighth in class.
  • The No. 27 SMP Racing BR01 Nissan that includes IndyCar driver Mikhail Aleshin is 15th in class.

GTE-Pro

  • Might as well be all about the BoP. Ford and Ferrari have locked out the top seven positions in the 14-car field with their seven entered cars, leaving the remaining seven cars from Corvette, Aston Martin and Porsche all 3.733 seconds or more in arrears.
  • IndyCar stars Sebastien Bourdais and Scott Dixon are in the Nos. 68 and 69 cars and tentatively first and second.

GTE-Am

  • Ferrari has four of the top six in this class with the older Ferrari F458 Italia; the top Porsche is the No. 78 KCMG entry in seventh.
  • NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell is currently ninth in the No. 62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari F458 Italia he shares with Jeff Segal and Bill Sweedler.

Provisional pole quotes

Jani to Radio Le Mans’ Bruce Jones: “It was not an easy session. None of us had a clear run. It was quite a difficult session to manage. We’ll see. Maybe it is enough. Maybe not. It’s a good start to the weekend for sure. I hit a lot of traffic especially in the Porsche corners I lost quite a bit of time. We know we have some more in our pockets. If we need to use more, we’ll see. That’s racing here, or qualifying here. You need a bit of luck sometimes.”

Rast to Radio Le Mans’ Shea Adam: “[Rain] would be ideal! We hope for some rain. But we still can improve the car. Got quite a bit traffic. We can go six or seventh tenths quicker. Very happy with pole position so far. Good lineup. For now it’s a bit perfect.”

Mueller to Jones: “I got my clear lap at the end. Be patient, be patient. Finally, last lap, it was a good lap to the checkered flag. I’ve been there on the podium with Joey (Hand) before. Lots of experience. Combined it’s just really really nice.”

Bell to Adam: “Not too fussed to be honest. We have good pace, good car. Wherever we are in quali, we are. If it rains tomorrow, great. If you’re pole here only means you cross line first with 24 hours left. I’m playing a down a bit. But it’d be a feather in cap to get pole. We haven’t got a huge quali setup on the car.”

PROVISIONAL QUALIFYING TIMES

Andretti United team names drivers for inaugural Extreme E season

Extreme E drivers Andretti
Extreme E
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The Extreme E team formed by Andretti Autosport and United Autosports named Catie Munnings and Timmy Hansen as its drivers Monday for the series’ inaugural 2021 season.

Munnings is a successful veteran of rally series. Hansen is a past winner and champion in the World Rallycross Championship.

They both will race in the environmentally conscious electric SUV series that will hold events in five areas around the world that are threatened by climate change. Chip Ganassi Racing and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton also are fielding cars in Extreme E, which will feature male and female co-drivers on every team.

Catie Munnings

“I’m so excited to join Andretti United Extreme E,” Munnings said in a release. ““I was really intrigued when I first heard about Extreme E, I just knew I had to be involved. The male / female racing partnership is a fantastic and exciting new concept. The season has incredible locations and the racing will be very exciting. It will be a new challenge for the teams and drivers, and I’m so thrilled to be working with such a strong team.

“The championship is a really innovative concept, it’s combining motorsport and science and will produce an important legacy in each race location. Bringing the platform that motorsport has in line with the awareness that the planet needs right now is awesome and a really important message.”

Timmy Hansen

Said Hansen: “Going into the Extreme E will be a new chapter in my career, one that I am extremely excited about. It is something brand new, not only for me, but the whole of motorsport. The format is something

we’ve never seen before. I’m also delighted to be able to carry the message of something bigger – talking about the environment and doing something good for the world – that’s something that really drives me. It’s going to be a big adventure in life to see these locations and I’m going to do my best in carrying this responsibility and hopefully making people aware of the challenges we have in the world, together with our passion for racing.”