Le Mans 24 hours: Porsche's 919 Hybrid to start on pole

Le Mans - Former Formula 1 great Mark Webber joins a colourful cast of professional drivers, Hollywood royalty, a celebrated Olympic cyclist, and a quadruple amputee in the Le Mans 24 Hour Race this weekend.

The 84th edition of the event Webber calls "a beast of a race" will draw its annual 250 000 plus crowd of fans to the city in the Sarthe renowned for the production of one of French cuisines specialities - rillettes.

Porsche 919 Hybrid on pole

The 2016 Le Mans is being staged in a country in the midst of Euro 2016, with French police on high alert to thwart brawling hooligans repeating the scenes of ugly clashes in Marseille and Lens this week.

Barring the odd good-natured ruckus over a missing water bottle, a ripped sleeping bag or bent tent pole authorities in Le Mans can rest easy as the tens of thousands of petrol heads joyfully soak in the heady mix of high octane racing dished up at the circuit de la Sarthe.

Watch: Porsche celebrate securing pole position

Porsche on pole at Le Mans from Porsche AG on Vimeo.

Webber returns after a second place finish last year as Porsche enjoyed a 1-2 for their 17th win after an absence of 17 years.

Early practice suggests Webber, in Porsche's No.1 car with Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard, and the team's second car driven by Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb, are in good shape for a repeat.

The two Porsches topped the times in practice on Wednesday ahead of arch rivals and 13-time winners Audi and Toyota, seeking a maiden success.

Former Red Bull driver Webber, 39, is deeply conscious of the fabled place Le Mans holds in motorsport.

Ultimate endurance track race

The grizzled Aussie said: "As one of the most unique motorsport events worldwide, you really can feel its history. You only have to mention some of the amazing sections of the track and memories from years gone by come flooding back.

"There's a very special atmosphere too." 

Webber said: "There's a real festival feel with such amazing support from the fans who always turn out in their droves and show the same levels of endurance as the teams and drivers.

"It's an incredible spectacle to drive at night and see all the banks and stands still packed to the rafters."

Watch: Audi's R8 drifting is so cool!

Webber and the rest of the 2016 Le Mans grid start their four-wheeled odyssey at 1pm, racing through dusk, night and dawn towards the bleary-eyed 1pm finish on Sunday (June 19).

Cars lap up the circuit at an average speed of over 250km/h with the longest distance ever covered equivalent to a round trip from Le Mans to Moscow, with insomniac supporters, fuelled by barbeques and beer, keeping in touch with the action via the circuit's Le Mans radio.

American actor Patrick Dempsey, who shot to fame as Dr Derek Shepherd in hospital drama Grey's Anatomy, is making his fifth appearance after filling second in the GTE-Am class in a Porsche 12 months ago.

Continuing the Hollywood theme, box office heavyweight Brad Pitt will wave the starting flag.

Wet qualifying session

Switzerland's Neel Jani, behind the wheel of a Porsche 919 Hybrid, stayed on pole position for the Le Mans 24 Hour Race on Thursday (June 16) when the third qualifying session was red-flagged due to heavy rain.

As a result of the conditions, most of the 60 cars taking part were unable to improve on their times set on Wednesday night.

The last section of qualifying is due to take place later Thursday but with the surface still wet, it's unlikely that challengers Audi or Toyota will be able to better Jani's time of 3min 19.733sec set Wednesday.

The two Porsche 919 Hybrids are due to occupy the front row followed by the Toyota TS050 Hybrids and the Audi R18s behind them on the third row.

This year's Le Mans, the 84th running of the classic endurance race, starts at 1300GMT Saturday and will be flagged off by Hollywood superstar Brad Pitt.

Likely starting grid:

1st row:

Dumas-Jani-Lieb (FRA-SUI-GER/Porsche 919 Hybrid)
Webber-Bernhard-Hartley (AUS-GER-NZL/Porsche 919 Hybrid)

2nd row:

Sarrazin-Conway-Kobayashi (FRA-GBR-JPN/Toyota TS050 Hybrid)
Buemi-Davidson-Nakajima (SUI-GBR-JPN/Toyota TS050 Hybrid)

3rd row:

Trluyer-Fssler-Lotterer (FRA-SUI-GER/Audi R18)
Duval-Jarvis-Di Grassi (FRA-GBR-BRA/Audi R18)

4th row:

Imperatori-Kraihamer-Tscher (SUI-AUT-SUI/Rebellion-AER)
Prost-Piquet Jr-Heidfeld (FRA-BRA-GER/Rebellion-AER)

5th row:

Trummer-Webb-Kaffer (SUI-GBR-GER/ByKolles CLM-AER)
Rusinov-Stevens-Rast (RUS-GBR-GER/Oreca-Nissan)

6th row:

Panciatici-Cheng-Tung (FRA-CHN-CHN/Alpine-Nissan)
Lapierre-Richelmi-Menezes (FRA-MCO-USA/Alpine-Nissan)

7th row:

Graves-Rao-Merhi (THA-GBR-ESP/Oreca-Nissan)
Vanthoor-Pew-Negri (BEL-USA-USA/Ligier-Honda)

8th row:

Dalziel-Derani-Cumming (GBR-BRA-CAN/Ligier-Nissan)
Thiriet-Beche-Hirakawa (FRA-SUI-JPN/Oreca-Nissan)

9th row:

Leventis-Watts-Kane (GBR/Gibson-Nissan)
Matsuda-Howson-Bradley (JPN-GBR-GBR/Oreca-Nissan)

10th row:

Barthez-Chatin-Buret (FRA/Ligier-Nissan)
Gommendy-Junjin-de Bruijn (FRA-CHN-NED/Oreca-Nissan)

11th row:

Van der Garde-Dolan-Dennis (NED-GBR-GBR/Gibson-Nissan)
Gonzalez-Senna-Albuquerque (MEX-BRA-PRT/Ligier-Nissan)

12th row:

Minassian-Mediani-Aleshin (FRA-ITA-RUS/BR01-Nissan)
Taittinger-Roussel-Striebig (FRA/Morgan-Nissan)

13th row:

Sharp-Brown-van Overbeek (USA/Ligier-Nissan)
Petrov-Shaitar-Ladygin (RUS/BR01-Nissan)

14th row:

Hoy-Munemann-Pizzitola (GBR-GBR-FRA/Ligier-Nissan)
Canal-Berthon-Rojas (FRA-FRA-MEX/Ligier-Nissan)

15th row:

Keating-Bleekemolen-Goosens (USA-DEN-BEL/Oreca-Nissan)
Nakano-Leutwiler-Winslow (JPN-SUI-GBR/Oreca-Judd)

16th row:

Capillaire-Maris-Coleman (FRA-FRA-GBR/Ligier-Judd)
Sausset-Tinseau-Bouvet (FRA/Morgan-Nissan)

17th row:

Krhn-Jnsson-Barbosa (USA-SWE-PRT/Ligier-Nissan)
Bourdais-Hand-Mller (FRA-USA-GER/Ford GT)

18th row:

Dixon-Briscoe-Westbrook (NZL-AUS-GBR/Ford GT)
Bruni-Calado-Pier Guidi (ITA-GBR-ITA/Ferrari 488)

19th row:

Franchitti-Priaulx-Tincknell (GBR/Ford GT)
Pla-Mcke-Johnson (FRA-GER-USA/Ford GT)

20th row:

Rigon-Bird-Bertolini (ITA-GBR-ITA/Ferrari 488)
Fisichella-Vilander-Malucelli (ITA-FIN-ITA/Ferrari 488)

Note: Grid will only be made official on Saturday morning by race steward

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