Race week at Le Mans, at least in terms of any track action, begins on Wednesday with the first free practice session run from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The weather this week is not able to make up its mind whether to rain or shine, so this leaves the teams with incomplete data for setting up the car for qualifying and the race itself. Qualifying, which follows the free practice on Wednesday, sees Richard Lietz dump the #92 Porsche in the sand at turn 2, where he just goes straight in after missing his braking point. No damage is done, except perhaps to his pride. The vehicle is recovered without delay, and the trio sets fifth fastest time in class, gridding the #91 car in seventh place.
As is the way at Weissach, the team and engineers never seeks attention and, in fact, plays down their potential, but the feeling in the paddock is palpable: The RSRs has performance to spare. This would indeed prove to be the case, as the following evening’s qualifying sees the #92 Porsche take third place on the grid and the #91 car finish seventh, the latter a victim of torrential rain and red flags from other cars going off in the wet conditions. The improvement in pace puts the #92 Porsche just .08 sec. behind the class-leading Aston Martin, hinting at the car’s untapped performance potential.
In contrast to the weather earlier in the week, race day dawns cooler and overcast, in defiance of the official summer solstice. Right on schedule, at 2:22 p.m., the fanfare gets underway as the cars wheel out of the pitlane and onto the track, line up against the pit wall, angled toward the first turn in an echo of the classic Le Mans start. The grid is invaded by team personnel, invited guests and celebs. The media always form a significant part of this scrum in their attempt to bring readers and viewers precise and up to the minute coverage of the world’s greatest endurance race; a pair of sharp elbows is essential here.
As the clock counts down, the marshals gradually move the non-combatants off the grid, followed by the glamor girls and the media, the team personnel and drivers. At around 2:40 p.m., the cars peel off to begin their warm-up lap before lining up in their conventional grid positions for the formation lap, which begins at about five minutes to the hour of three after being sent on their way by official guest starter Jim France. The field rounds the final curve of the Ford complex, the pace car feeds off into the pits, and the tension ratchets up a hundred notches as the cars move over the start line in a mass display of horsepower.
Watched by Dr. Wolfgang Porsche, Porsche CEO Matthias Müller and Board Member Bernhard Maier, the two works RSRs and the five customer-run GT3 RSRs (Type 997) begin the first of more then 300 laps. In the first hour of the race, works driver Marc Lieb (#92) moves up into second place in the GTE-Pro class, while colleague Jörg Bergmeister makes up three places in the #91 RSR. It quickly becomes evident that the Porsches have the speed advantage on the straights and in the faster corners, but, in the twisty stuff, such as through the Porsche Curves, they lose ground to the Aston Martins and Ferraris.
The first stop for the #91 car is at 4:40 p.m. when Joerg Bergmeister pits, followed three minutes later by the #92 car with Marc Lieb behind the wheel. The Porsches have planned to run 13 laps per tank of fuel, but there’s a tragic reason for delaying the first refuelling stop— the fatal accident at Tertre Rouge involving Allan Simonsen in the #95 Aston Martin. The safety car is deployed at 3:09 p.m. for almost an hour while the barrier is repaired, while drivers report that the first section of the track, including where the accident happened, is very slippery.
Olaf Manthey reveals that he’s hoping the brakes will last the full distance, but this is dependent on the pace of the race, the amount of time spent behind the safety car, and the rain. As it happened, the field spent a total of five and a half hours behind the safety car, and it rained heavily at times, but the race pace was so brutal that the brakes had to be changed in the twentieth hour.