Peugeot scored Le Mans pole, Audi reduces gap
The expected heavy rain stayed out, but also with the competition having a shot on pole Peugeot was able to keep the four fastest lap times on the time sheets to score its sixth pole in Le Mans history. Sebastien Bourdais' fastest time of Wednesday was not threatened at any moment during the final day of qualifying.
After the dominance Peugeot had shown one day earlier, the French car manufacturer was able to focus on the race setup instead of having to defend their provisional pole. At the end of the final two hour qualifying, Bourdais had completed the test program and got the opportunity to prove again the speed of the Peugeot 908. The native of Le Mans pushed his car to a time that would had been fast enough for pole, had he not already gone faster in Wednesday's qualifying.
"We're obviously very happy with this pole," Bourdais said right after getting out of the No. 3 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP. "Today we haven't focused on the speed of others, we were just working on our own on a good car for the race. It has been a good day. Not only we were able to score pole, we also achieved all our other goals. Of course we shouldn't get carried away by this success, you also need to be conservative if needed."
The No. 1 and No. 2 Peugeots were also not able to improve their lap times and will start from second and third spot on the grid. Nicolas Lapierre was able to improve the fastest time of the Team ORECA Matmut Peugeot, but was unable to gain ground on the three Peugeot works teams and will start fourth on the grid.
Behind the Peugeots, Audi was working hard to close the gap to the leading Peugeot cars. Very quickly it became clear that the German manufacturers' three teams did improve their Audi R15 TDIs compared to the Wednesday qualifying with Alan McNish reducing the 3.8 second gap to 2.4 seconds. Mike Rockenfeller later closed the gap to 2.2 seconds to the pole, which made the No. 9 Audi the highest ranked non-Peugeot.
"On Wednesday, we weren't quite where we wanted to be but on Thursday we made good progress," explained Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. "At Le Mans, speed isn't the only thing that counts. It's important to have vehicles with good drivability and, above all, efficiency as well. This is what we've been concentrating on."
The honor of being the highest ranked non-diesel LMP1 car went to the No. 007 Aston Martin Lola B09/60, driven by Adrian Fernandez, Stefan Mucke and Harold Primat.
"With the drying conditions we had today, the grip was variable and there was no point in taking any risks," said Stefan Mucke, who set the quickest time in the 007. "We were all able to take advantage of the situation to get in some running time in these conditions, in case this is what we experience in the race. But mostly the session allowed us to complete some set-up work and run through some more preparations. Our aim was to be the quickest petrol car and I'm very happy that we've achieved this objective so far."
In LMP2 the fight between the HPD's of Strakka and Highcroft Racing continued. After Highcroft took provisional pole in the second qualifying session, Danny Watts would take the pole back for Strakka early in the final qualifying by almost one second. The British driver later improved his fastest lap time by half a second, which was enough to score the P2 pole.
"The pole is fantastic and I am really pleased, but this is a very small part of it," smiled Watts. "I had a bit of traffic, but there is always here at Le Mans. The good thing is that the car is easy and very comfortable to drive. I think that we have a very good package for the race."
The Highcroft Racing HPD ARX.01 team had to settle for second. "I'm very happy, because we made a lot of progress since yesterday," David Brabham concluded. "At the end I had a go on another qualifying lap, but there was too much traffic and then I out braked myself at the first chicane."
Like in P1, the LMGT1 top three stayed the same. No one was able to beat the fastest time set by Tomas Enge in the No. 52 Young Driver AMR team's Aston Martin DBR9 on Wednesday.
The only driver among the fastest three to improve his time was Romain Grosjean in the No. 60 Matech Competition Ford GT, though it was not enough to improve the team's earlier position of third. Marc VDS Racing Team Ford GT team was second fastest.
The Ferrari dominance in LMGT2 shown in the second qualifying session was partly broken by Corvette. The Risi Competizione car of Pierre Kaffer, Jaime Melo and Gianmaria Bruni were still able to keep the pole for the popular Italian brand, but Corvette would push the No. 95 AF Corse SLR Ferrari with Jan Magnussen and Oliver Gavin back to fourth position.
"I have done my best time after four laps. I had a little bit of traffic and might have been faster, but it was enough to be on pole," Bruni said. "I am very happy. Of course, the new asphalt played a key role. The race in the GT2 class will be tough because the Corvettes are really fast. We'll see what we can do!"
The No. 64 Corvette C6 ZR1 qualified second in GT2 with Gavin's best time, while Magnussen put the No. 63 Corvette in third spot. "We have the best we ever had here at Le Mans," Corvette crew chief Dan Binks said. "We're disappointed we didn't win the pole, but we can't wait for Saturday and Sunday."
For AF Corse SLR the final qualifying turned out to be a very bad one. After the team lost its No. 96 car one day earlier in a heavy crash, the team struggled on Thursday with the setup of the No. 95 car, resulting in several spins by veterans Giancarlo Fisichella and Jean Alesi. The car dropped from second back to fourth position in the highly competitive GT2 field. In the final results, the top ten is separated by only 3,452 seconds.
In the back of the GT2 field, the RSR Jaguar was finally able to turn a decent number of trouble free laps. This enabled the team to improve their laptime by more than a second, but this would still be the final position on the grid.