Rain, regs, BoP highlight Le Mans Thursday as poles confirmed

Photo: ACO
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Rain in most, if not all, of Thursday’s two qualifying sessions for the 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans has ensured Wednesday’s qualifying times stood as the pole times for this year’s race.

So that means Neel Jani is on pole overall for a second consecutive season in the No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid (LMP1 and overall) with Rene Rast (No. 26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 05 Nissan, LMP2), Dirk Mueller (No. 68 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT, GTE-Pro) and Rob Bell (No. 61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari F458 Italia, GTE-Am) the other class polesitters.

COMBINED QUALIFYING TIMES

Full marks on Thursday have to go to the safety car driver, who completed this save, as well as Risi Competizione’s Matteo Malucelli, who saved his No. 82 Ferrari 488 GTE from a serious accident.

With the on-track action relegated to the background, off-track stories highlighted most of Thursday for the race.

BoP DRAMA

From discussions with folks at Le Mans, and from a series of reports out Thursday, the topic of the race going into it is more related to Balance of Performance in GTE-Pro.

Ford was granted a 5 kg minimum weight reduction and Aston Martin a 60 kg minimum weight reduction; meanwhile both Porsche (5 kg) and Ferrari (10 kg) got minimum weight additions. Aston Martin (-0.6mm) and Corvette (-0.5mm) both got air restrictor reductions. There were also changes to maximum fuel volumes and fuel restrictor diameters.

The end result for qualifying was a Ford and Ferrari whitewash, with the new built-to-2016 GTE regulations turbo cars well and truly clear of the normally aspirated 2015 update variants.

You certainly expect newer cars to have advantages, but maybe by several tenths or at most a second, not 3.7 seconds as was the gap between the leading Ford and the first of the Porsches, which were resigned along with Aston Martin and Corvette to the bottom of the barrel.

So what has Thursday brought? Words, lots of them.

Multimatic’s Larry Holt went on record to Motorsport.com vehemently denying the allegations that Ford was sandbagging. He called the allegations “bullshit,” although the word was later edited to a softer landing of “nonsense.” The colorful Canadian has never been one to shy away from colorful language, though, beyond being a wizard of Multimatic’s engineering arm.

Meanwhile DailySportscar had a rather detailed tour through the paddock to gauge its take on BoP – Corvette being the most vocal, Porsche saying it at least ran to target while Ferrari had Rick Mayer of Risi as a voice noting that BoP is almost a necessary evil.

Respective pieces from both Sportscar365 and RACER got the Automobile Club de l’Ouest’s Vincent Beaumesnil on record as saying that BoP changes could still be possible. An analysis of the regulations confirms that’s accurate, although whether the ACO in fact acts on it based on Wednesday’s controversial qualifying remains to be seen.

Bottom line though: the race’s best scripts are unwritten rather than planned in advance, and for any one or two manufacturers – regardless of who they are – to have this gaping an advantage on numbers goes entirely against the spirit of competition and the baseline of BoP. It’s an unfortunate talking point.

ACO PRESSER REVEALS A CROSS-CONTINENT CHASM

The headlining items out of the annual Automobile Club de l’Ouest press conference, held Thursday, were future LMP1 regulations for 2018 for privateers (DRS looks set to enter the paddock for privateers), the reveal of the new Gibson 2017 LMP2 engine (a new 4.2-liter V8 engine, supplying all LMP2 teams in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), including the Le Mans 24 Hours, as well as the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) and the Asian Le Mans Series (from 2019 onwards)) and, without saying as much, a strong indication that IMSA’s new Daytona Prototype international – or DPi – won’t be welcomed at Le Mans next year. More here, again, from Sportscar365 and RACER.

My colleague Luke Smith will have more on all of this tomorrow. Thursday is always the day at Le Mans when politics generally seems to take precedence.

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
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ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.