It’s Thursday evening and with the Wednesday night’s opening rounds of practice and qualifying behind us, the action is well and truly under way at this year’s Le Mans 24-Hours to finalise the grid for the big race on Saturday.
In some ways Wednesday’s qualifying produced the expected Audi contingent occupying the top of the leader board, but it wasn’t all one-way traffic as the No.7 Toyota (Wurz/Lapierre/Nakajima) was nestled promisingly in second place after the first hour with a best time of 3:27.191, while the lead Audi of Capello/Kristensen/McNish was a little more than a half second ahead with a time of 3:26.536. At the end of the first session though, perhaps predictably, the Audis occupied the top three spots plus fifth spot, while the Toyotas filled fourth and sixth places.
The Audis ran like clockwork and one was left with the impression that it would take an earthquake to dislodge the squadron of cars from Ingolstadt. The overnight leader in the LMP2 class was the No.46 Oreca 03-Nissan driven by Beche/Thiriet/Tinseau, while second place was occupied by the No.48 Murphy Prototypes Oreca 03-Nissan followed by the No.44 Starworks HPD ARX 03b-Honda.
In the GTE Pro category, the No.74 Corvette C6.R of Gavin/Milner/Westbrook lead from the No.59 Luxury Racing Ferrari 458 driven by Makowieki/Melo/Farnbacher with the No.73 Corvette C6.R of Magnussen/Garcia/Taylor filled third spot. In the GTE Am class, it was the No.79 Flying Lizard Porsche 997 GT3 RSR of Nieman/Pilet/Pumpelly which led from the No.75 Prospeed Porsche GT3 RSR of Alfaisal/Curtis/Edwards with the No.99 Aston Martin Vantage V8 driven by Simonsen/Nygaard/Paulsen in third.
The innovative Nissan-engined Highcroft Racing DeltaWing driven by Michael Krumm mounted a kerb on the third lap dislodging the car’s fire extinguisher which proceeded to spray the electrics with foam causing the car to cut out. In the normal course of events during qualifying, the DeltaWing was returned to Parc Ferme where it stayed for the rest of the session thus preventing the team from participating any further that evening. Krumm had set a time of 3:42.612 before the incident placing the car in the middle of the field. Speaking to the team on Thursday morning, I was assured that the car was in good order in all other respects and would be ready for action this evening.
The Thursday qualifying session started under a cloudy sky but with no threat of rain. The field looked set for a promising two hours of action. Indeed after the initial period was completed, it was the three Audis (No.3, No.1 & No.2) that topped the leader board once again with the Toyota driven by Anthony Davidson in fourth. Interestingly though the R18 Ultra (3:24.078) now headed the e-tron quattro which had been on top the evening before.
After Thursday’s first qualifying session the No.24 Morgan Judd headed the LMP2 class, improving from fifth on Wednesday. The No.59 Luxury Racing Ferrari now lead the GTE Pro class, up from second, relegating the No.74 Corvette to third place while the No.79 Porsche held station in the Am category. The DeltaWing did not improve on its time of the previous evening filling the 26th place, exactly midfield, but looked to be running smoothly.
As the second of Thursday’s qualifying sessions got underway, it was the No.1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro that grabbed the early initiative before the light began to fade, posting a time of 3:23.787, but after an hour of racing the session was red flagged when a car hit the wall. This time set by the No.1 Audi was to remain the quickest which will see last year’s winners (Fassler/Lotterer/Treluyer) head up the grid in the white R18 e-tron quattro. They will be followed by the No.3 Audi Ultra of Dumas/Duval/Gene (3:24.078) with the No.8 Toyota TS030 Hybrid of Davidson/Buemi/Sarrazin (3:24.842) in third place.
Final grid placings in the LMP2 class were as follows: No.25 ADR Delta Oreca 03-Nissan driven by Martin/Graves/Charouz (3:38.181); No.24 Oak Racing Morgan-Judd of Nicolet/Lahaye/Pla (3:38.598); No.26 Signatech Delta Oreca 03-Nissan of Panciatici/Rogues/Rusinov (3:39.152). Ferrari headed the GTE Pro class with the No.59 Luxury Racing 458 Italia of Makowieki/Melo/Farnbacher (3:55.393); this was followed by the No.97 Aston Martin driven by Fernandez/Mucke/Turner (3:55.870); and the No.74 Corvette of Gavin/Milner/Westbrook (3:55.910). In the GTE Am class, the No.79 Flying Lizard Porsche GT3 RSR of Nieman/Pilet/Pumpelly was really flying with a time of 3:57.594; the No.75 Prospeed Porsche GT3 RSR of Alfaisal/Curtis/Edwards was second (3:58.035); and the No.99 Aston Martin Vantage V8 driven by Simonsen/Nygaard/Paulsen remained in third place. The No.0 Highcroft Racing Nissan DeltaWing driven by Franchitti/Krumm/Motoyama mixed it with the LMP2 cars (as predicted) in 29th place with a time of 3:42.612.
Friday traditionally sees no track action but there are plenty of press conferences and other activities to attend to, blogs to write and interviews to conduct, so we had best get going.