Ed Fahey, Le Mans Correspondent
The French Luxury Racing team will start their #59 Ferrari F458 Italia from pole position in the GTE-Pro category for the 2012 Le Mans 24-hour race. Frederic Makowieki set the fastest time of 3:55.3, just ahead of the #97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage V8 with Darren Turner on 3:55.8, less than half a second slower than the polesitting Ferrari. Turner later described his performance as surprising, not expecting the GTE-Pro cars to be as fast. Third place went to the #74 Corvette Racing C6R ZR1, Oliver Gavin setting their time of 3:55.9
In the GTE-Am category, Patrick Pilet put the #79 Flying Lizards Porsche 997 GT3 RSR on pole with 3:57.5, ahead of Sean Edwards in the #75 Prospeed Porsche 997 GT3 RSR with 3:58.0, with the #99 Aston Martin Racing Vantage V8 with Allan Simonsen on board setting their time of 3:58.7 for third in class.
Despite the poor weather forecast, the predicted showers did not materialise, as falling air temperatures led to rising humidity and more moisture on track. This meant none of the top three times in either category were set during Q3. Interestingly, in GTE-Am, Wednesday’s top three times were fastest, with Ferrari and Aston Martin improving today in GTE Pro and Corvette holding onto third thanks to their fastest time on Wednesday.
The true winner though was the #51 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia. Giancarlo Fishichella crashed the car during the first free practice session on Wednesday, leaving it too badly damaged to continue. A replacement F458 bodyshell arrived this morning and after a herculean effort by the AF Corse mechanics, Toni Vilander took the car for some shakedown laps in the last 40 minutes of Q3, to get his five compulsory night laps in with a best time of 4:00. The car will start at the back of the grid for the race on Saturday, but given that this car is one of the top runners in GTE-Pro, it won’t take long for Fisichella, Bruni and Vilander to move through the field.
Porsche suffered in GTE-Pro: the #77 Felbermayr-Proton car could only manage sixth. Marc Lieb’s best time of 3:57.6 was outclassed by Pilet’s GTE-Am time. Lieb was just ahead of Jorg Bergmeister in the #80 Flying Lizards machine with a best time of 3:58.7. But given Felbermayr’s amazing win at WEC Spa and Flying Lizards ‘never say die’ outlook, the Pro class Porsches should not be too disappointed with a relatively poor qualifying performance. Any of the Porsche teams will admit the 2013spec Porsche GTE racer cannot come soon enough, especially given the performance of the more recent Aston Martins, Corvettes and Ferraris.
Further down the GTE-Am field, the times were much closer, with five seconds separating 4th to 13th positions. The GTE class looks set once again to deliver proper wheel-to-wheel action at the 80th running of the Le Mans 24-hour race.