Circuit de la Sarthe
- Positions two, three and four in first qualifying
- Main focus was on race preparation
- Accident by Romain Dumas
Le Mans: Audi in lurking position
After the first qualifying session for the 79th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours (start at 3 p.m. on Saturday) the three new Audi R18 TDI cars occupy positions two, three and four.
Audi Sport Team Joest used the first practice day primarily to prepare for the race. All three cars were pursuing different programs on the track. One R18 TDI was equipped with additional sensors to measure tire temperatures among other things. On another car the balance for the aerodynamics version planned for use in wet conditions was tested. The third team was mainly working on the suspension set-up.
To make optimal use of the six available hours Audi Sport Team Joest chose not to intervene in the battle for the pole position in the final phase of qualifying. Only Mike Rockenfeller (Audi R18 TDI #1), André Lotterer (#2) and Allan McNish (#3) each received a set of fresh Michelin tires at the beginning of qualifying on which they moved to the front of the field. They were bumped to positions two, three and four by the best Peugeot only half an hour before the end.
The fastest lap of an Audi R18 TDI was achieved by André Lotterer (3m 27.939s). Mike Rockenfeller was merely one hundredth of a second slower (3m 27.949s). Allan McNish had no free lap and set a time of 3m 28.301s.
But we’re happy that the incident had relatively minor consequences.
At 22:23 Audi Sport Team Joest suffered a set-back when Romain Dumas in the Audi R18 TDI designated as car number "1" hit a GT vehicle that was standing on the track in the Mulsanne corner head on. "I saw neither yellow flags nor warning lights," reported Dumas, who was not injured in the accident. The safety concept of the new LMP1 sports car proved its viability as well: damage occurred primarily to body parts. A repair before the final qualifying session will be possible without any problem, particularly since all three cars will be prepared partly anew on Thursday according to schedule and equipped with the engines intended for the race.
"Of course it was unfortunate that the accident happened, especially since it caused Timo (Bernhard), Romain (Dumas) and Mike (Rockenfeller) to lose valuable practice time," commented Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. "But we’re happy that the incident had relatively minor consequences. We collected a lot of valuable data today that will help us with our race preparation. We only sent our cars out on the track on fresh tires at the beginning and immediately afterward concentrated on our work for the race again. That the quickest five cars are within just 1.8 seconds of each other confirms how close the competition is at Le Mans this year."
The grid positions will be decided in two additional qualifying sessions on Thursday night (19:00 to 21:00 and 22:00 to 24:00).