Stephen Errity, Le Mans Correspondent
A cool and overcast first qualifying session for the 2012 Le Mans 24 Hours saw Andre Lotterer claim provisional pole position for the #1 hybrid R18 with a time of 3:25.453. The second e-tron quattro of Kristensen/Capello/McNish was around a second adrift, while Alex Wurz in the #7 Toyota got between the two diesel R18s by setting the fourth-fastest time: a 3:27.191. Dumas was just ahead of him in the #3 Audi, while Rockenfeller in the #4 was just behind. The #8 Toyota of Buemi/Sarrazin/Davidson completed the works-team lockout of the LMP1 top six, recording a 3:28.295.
Nearly the entire grid went out early to set a representative time, as the temperature was set to drop several degrees in the course of the two-hour session. The one notable absence in the P1 class was the #16 Pescarolo 03, which had to have accident damage from the evening's free practice session repaired. On the other side of the Pescarolo garage, the #17 Dome S102.5 of Minassian, Bourdais and Ara just broke in to the overall top ten with a 3:34.716. Getting closer to the works teams was the HPD ARX-03a of Strakka Racing, the quickest privateer entry with a 3:32.750. Lead driver Danny Watts said: “We ticked a good box today. There was no point pushing at the end of the session with the temperatures going down, we were just gathering some more info for the engineers.”
Rivalling the open-cockpit HPD for best 'pure petrol' throughout Wednesday was the closed-cockpit Lola coupe of Rebellion Racing. The Anglo-Swiss team is not letting Lola's financial problems affect its campaign from the time being and the #13 car of Belicchi/Bleekemolen/Primat was eighth fastest overall, just four tenths behind the Strakka car. “We struggled for grip in free practice but after making some setup changes we've found it now,” said Primat. Nicolas Prost in the sister #12 car commented: “we went for a quick lap straight away at the start, and then later Neel [Jani, his co-driver] was setting good times for the conditions later on.” They would end the session ninth, just a tenth off their team-mates' pace.
JRM Racing are the second LMP1 team running a HPD, but the mood in their garage was not as positive as it was in Strakka. “We were just saving tyres and ensuring our drivers get their mandatory five night laps in,” said Peter Dumbreck, “as we're expecting better weather tomorrow night.” Karun Chandhok is a Le Mans rookie and will be the first Indian driver to take the start of the legendary race on Saturday, but he reckons the team have a lot of work to do yet: “It wasn't a great day – we need to change how we're working the tyres,” he reported.
Warren Hughes put the Murphy Prototypes Oreca-Nissan on top of the LMP2 standings after 10 minutes, but the car he shares with Jody Firth and Brendon Hartley ended the session second quickest, just behind the identical Oreca-Nissan of Thiriet by TDS Racing of Mathias Beche, Pierre Thiriet and Christophe Tinseau. Starworks Motorsport kept up their promising form from free practice by going third, but they were almost a second off the Murphy car's time.
The Nissan DeltaWing suffered a curtailed session, stopping on track after only 15 minutes when its fire extinguisher went off, automatically shutting off the car's electrical system. It was recovered to parc ferme and drivers Michael Krumm, Satoshi Motoyama and Marino Franchitti will now have more work to do in Thursday's two sessions. Also in trouble this session was Keiko Ihara in the #29 Gulf Racing Lola, who went off into the tyres at the Dunlop Chicane.