The battle for the Le Mans Endurance Series titles commenced in earnest today during qualifying for the Istanbul 1000kms race. Emmanuel Collard and Jean-Christophe Boullion, currently second in the championship, got their campaign off to the best start when Collard set pole position time in his Judd-powered Pescarolo. His time of 1m39.359s was a little under a tenth of a second faster than the Zytek of Casper Elgaard, who has been drafted into the team at the last minute to help Hayanari Shimoda and Tom Chilton.
"Since we got here, we have been quick," said Collard. "My next lap was three tenths of a second faster on the data, but I messed up a corner. We still have too much understeer and tomorrow we wi ll have to try something else. We are losing a lot of time on the brakes and we are much slower through the final section of corners than the Zytek."
Shimoda, who was involved in a large accident in Australia last week, was cleared to drive at a medical examination in London, and took part in free practice. "With three drivers in the car, the others need to get comfortable and need more time," said the young Japanese. Elgaard, with Shimoda and John Nielsen, drove the car to victory at the first LMES of the year at Spa in Apri l.
Nicolas Minassian was third fastest in the Creation DBA, ahead of Allan McNish in the Audi.
Guy Smith set the LMP2 pole position time in the Chamberlain Synergy Lola, the Briton joining Gareth Evans and Peter Owen for the first time. "I have never driven an LMP2 car before, so I had no idea what to expect," said the former Le Mans winner, who spun on his second qualifying lap and was nearly hit by Allan McNish's Audi.
"We had understeer yesterday so we dropped the ride-height at the front. That was fine, but I got a little sideways through the corner before, and then just put a wheel on the kerb, which was enough to spin me around. I was in second gear, couldn't get neutral, and then the engine stalled. The marshals were not too happy with me. I saw Allan and I am glad it was him driving or we could have had a very big accident."
Tommy Erdos was second fastest in the RML Lola, the Brazilian driving with British driver Mike Newton. The pair are three points off Evans and Bob Berridge, who has been forced to miss this final race. Erdos's time of 1m41.797s, was nine-tenths of a second slower than Smith's pole position lap, but nearly four tenths of a second faster than Didier Andre's best in the Paul Belmondo Racing Courage. Their team-mates, Vincent Vosse and Claude-Yves Gossel in, who are level on points with Erdos and Newton, were fourth fastest in their class in the car that they will share with Karim Ojjeh.
Pedro Lamy was fastest in the hotly-contested GT1 class, the Portuguese driving the MenX Ferrari around the 5.316km circuit in a time of 1m49.297s. Lamy will share the car with Peter Kox and Robert Pergl, the Czech driver who lies seventh in the GT1 drivers' points table, four points off the leader Matteo Cressoni.
"I didn't have any traffic that lost me any time," said Lamy . "I had a good first lap, the second was rubbish because I was trying too hard, and then the third was again good. The car has been doing the times since the first practice. Michelin have brought the right compound of tyres, learning from their experience here in the FIA GT Championship a few months ago."
Cressoni's BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari was third fastest in the hands of Fabio Babini. "I went out and set a time which was a good one," said Babini. I came to the pits, and they told me that it was not that important to be on pole, so I went out again without pushing the car too hard."
The two BMS Scuderi a Italia Ferraris are ahead of the Convers Team Ferrari. Christophe Bouchut was fourth fastest in the GT1 class in the Ferrari that he shares with Darren Turner and Alexey Vasiliev.
Andrew Kirkaldy and Nathan Kinch were fastest in the GT2 class in their Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari 360 Modena. "We were not sure what our pace woul d be," said the Scottish driver. " I did a flying lap, followed by a slow lap to cool off, then another flying lap. I did a best of 1m51s and I was behind the GPC Ferrari of Jaime Melo. I could see that he was sl iding and locking up, so I knew that he would not be able to beat my time. "
Melo was second quickest in the class, three tenths of a second behind and ahead of the TVR Tuscan of Laurence Tomlinson, Jonny Kane and Warren Hughes. The title is already decided in favour of the Sebah Automotive Porsche team, but Kinch and Kirkaldy are embroi led in a battle with the Autorlando Porsche team of Franco Groppi and Luigi Moccia for second place in the standings. Moccia was fourth fastest in the class.