In the ongoing rivalry between the powerful Audi and Peugeot works teams in Le Mans racing, Peugeot has often been the hare with Audi still taking the victory as the tortoise. But at Silverstone today, the Audis were unbeatable as Allan McNish led a 1-2 qualifying result for the German marque for tomorrow's Le Mans Series race.
"It was nice to go into qualifying knowing that we can attack," said McNish. "We came here to win the race and start the championship off well. We didn't come here for fun."
Start the championship -- this is the Le Mans Series finale, is it not? Ah, but McNish is referring to the new-for-2010 Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, for which Silverstone is the opening round, to be followed by rounds at Petit Le Mans in October, and then the 1000 km of Zhuhai in November.
With the ILMC, the factory teams as well as privateers were out in force at Silverstone, with nearly 50 entries, highlighted by the two Audis and two Peugeots.
McNish showed his speed early in the qualifying, as the two Audi R15s dominated the timesheets throughout the session. For a while it looked as if the sister #2 car, driven by Timo Bernhard in qualifying, might claim the pole position but McNish put paid to those ideas with a lap of 1:43.417 on what seemed almost routine lap to the Scot.
That was nearly six tenths better than Bernhard's best effort, and the German did not make a serious effort at bettering McNish's provisional pole time beyond that, satisfying himself with an outside front-row starting position for the 1000-km endurance race.
And Peugeot? Nicolas Minassian in the works 908 HDi FAP was 10.014 seconds off McNish's pace, and Stephane Sarrazin in the ORECA-entered 908 was just two hundredths slower.
It might have been different, had Minassian not spun on his warmup lap, damaging his tires, or had Sarrazin not been slowed down by local yellow flags. Yet the Audis had been convincing in practice, too, the cars' new high-downforce configuration working well on Silverstone's "Arena" circuit layout.
In the LM P2 class, the Strakka Racing HPD ARX-01 was even more dominant, with Danny Watts taking the class pole by a margin of over 1.5 seconds to line up 10th overall on the grid.
Olivier Pla took second in class for the Quifel-ASM in their Team Ginetta-Zytek 09S, eight tenths ahead of Team Bruichladdich's Ginetta-Zytek.
It looked like the three-car AF Corse squad would take the LM GT2 pole position for Ferrari, as the squad's #95 and #96 cars traded fast times early in the session. However, Robert Bell came through to score the class pole for JMW Aston Martin in the late going, setting a lap time of 2:03.340, barely slower than the sole LM GT1 entry, Larbre Competition's Saleen S7-R.
AF Corse had to settle for second and fourth in class in the end, with Toni Vilander's best lap in the #95 0.159 seconds behind the Aston Martin's quickest time. Jaime Melo had to settle for fourth in class as Marc Lieb slipped the Felbermayr Porsche past the #96 AF Corse.
So McNish and teammate Tom Kristensen will take the start from the pole in the #1 Audi, with Bernhard and Rinaldo "Dindo" Capello next to them in the #2. 170 laps tomorrow afternoon will tell the story of whether Audi has the outright race speed as well to take the inaugural ILMC victory.