Lapierre gives ORECA the home pole at Paul Ricard

Lapierre gives ORECA the home pole at Paul Ricard

Nicolas Lapierre scored the pole position for ORECA in the 2010 Le Mans Series season opener, and the team's home race. And a home race it is: not only is ORECA a French team, but the team's base is literally just minutes away in...

Nicolas Lapierre scored the pole position for ORECA in the 2010 Le Mans Series season opener, and the team's home race. And a home race it is: not only is ORECA a French team, but the team's base is literally just minutes away in Toulon.

#4 Team Oreca Matmut Peugeot 908 HDi FAP: Oliver Panis, Nicolas Lapierre, St?phane Sarrazin.
Photo by DPPI.

ORECA is running the only example of the 24H-winning Peugeot 908 FDi-HAP in the Le Mans series, but the one example was all it took to claim at least the pole position at the storied track near Le Castellet, as Lapierre lapped the 5.809-km track in a time of 1:41.195.

"The car is working very well, we worked on the set-up for the race," Lapierre explained to Auto-Hebdo. "For now, the car is really great, and our relationship with Peugeot is excellent."

ORECA's main rival in the series is expected to be Team Joest, which is running Audi's newly-revised "R15 plus": neither Peugeot nor Audi are participating directly in the series, and are instead fighting the battle through their proxies, ORECA and Joest.

While ORECA had the edge in the first qualifying session, Joest's Rinaldo "Dindo" Capello was not far behind, with a gap of just 0.437 seconds, in its first competitive appearance -- the team missed the series' official test at the same track in March as the "plus" was not yet ready.

"I'm quite happy because the car improved compared to the morning practice," Capello said. "Qualifying was like a fourth free practice session for us which we used to test further changes. These adjustments improved the car. But on this track the tire works just for one or two really fast laps. After the changes I was faster in some corners on the used tires than before with the fresh rubber."

The team is still looking for the right settings for the track, and with just a brief warm-up session remaining now before the green flag on Sunday, they will likely end up using the eight-hour endurance race to learn more about their new steed.

"We had some difficulties to find a good setup for the R15 plus for this race track and we have not yet found it," explained Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, the director of Audi Motorsport. "The team even tried something different in qualifying as the drivers were not happy at all with the car in the morning. We have to keep working and try to use the race as much as possible for the development of the R15 plus because you simply can learn most in a race."

#7 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R15 TDI : Rinaldo Capello, Allan McNish.
Photo by Audi Communications Motorsport.

The Joest team will be running the eight hours with just two drivers, with Allan McNish pairing Capello, as Le Mans legend Tom Kristensen is still recuperating from a badminton injury.

Behind the two diesels, the second row has the Stefan Mucke-led Lola Aston Martin crew, 0.722 seconds behind the Audi, and ORECA's second car, an ORECA-AIM that is using the team's own (nee Courage) chassis. Rebellion Racing claimed the third row with their two Lola B10/60s, just ahead of the all-Mansell crew of Nigel, Leo and Greg in a Ginetta-Zytek.

In the LM P2 class, Strakka Racing is running an HPD ARX-01c, which won it all in last year's American Le Mans Series, then badged as an Acura ARX-01c. The team is still learning about its new car, which is making its European debut, and Danny Watts just barely edged Quifel-ASM's Ginetta-Zytek for the P2 class pole and ninth overall: the margin was just 0.075 seconds.

"I knew I had only a small window of opportunity, so it was important to get a clear lap right from the start," Watts recalled. "I drove at the limit and the pace was really good."

With 40 cars on track in qualifying, the team timed it to perfection, releasing their driver into clear track for the qualifying attempt.

The P2 entry list for the event is long, and the class's cars occupy the ninth through 18th spots on the grid. With the Formula Le Mans class -- headed by Eduardo Piscopo in the DAMS entry -- included, a total of 26 prototypes will take the green flag tomorrow.

On the other hand, the LM GT1 entry has dwindled down to a singular entry: Gabriele Gardel set the only qualifying time in the class in Larbre Competition's Saleen S7-R, and claimed the class pole position by default. A class victory will be Larbre's, too, if the team is only able to bring the car to the finish.

LM GT1 is as competitive as ever, though, with 13 entries vying for the class honours. Gianmaria Bruni was the fastest in the qualifying session, setting a time of 1:57.850 in the AF Corse Ferrari F430, nearly four tenths of a second faster than the second-placed Porsche 997 GT3 RSR of Team Felbermayr Proton.

In addition to the six Ferraris and four Porsches in the class, tomorrow's race will also see JMW Motorsport's Aston Martin Vantage, Spyker Squadron's Spyker C8 Laviolette and Team Schnitzer's BMW M3 take part in the battle for class honours.

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