By: Tom Haapanen and Tony DiZinno, Le Mans Correspondents
- Peugeot hoping for a repeat of 2010 qualifying
- BMW, Ferrari, Corvette all close in LM GTE-Pro
Sarrazin flies to top ahead of the Audis
Stéphane Sarrazin saved the day – or the night – for the local fans at the first qualifying session for this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. With a stonking lap time of 3:27.033, the Peugeot 908 driver outdistanced the archrival Audi works team and claimed the provisional pole position ahead of tomorrow night’s second session.
After the first 90 minutes of the two-hour qualifying session, with the clock now nearing midnight, it looked as if Audi had got the formula right this year with its new R18 TDIs holding the top three positions ahead of the Peugeots, in spite of an early incident for Romain Dumas and the No. 1 Audi.
That was a frightening incident in the first of the Mulsanne chicanes: Dumas was powering down the legendary 6-km straight, when Roald Goethe spun his LM GTE-Am Aston Martin Vantage at the first chicane. With the GTE car sitting across the narrow chicane, Dumas ran out of time to avoid it, and ended up T-boning the hapless Aston Martin. Both drivers were OK, however, and even damage to the cars appeared relatively light.
But it was with 30 minutes to go in the session that Sarrazin finally broke through the Audi hegemony atop the session timing screens, seizing the provisional pole position with a time of 3:27.033 in the No. 8 Peugeot, nine tenths faster than erstwhile leader André Lotterer. The excitement in the stands was palpable as the giant screens switched to the session standings showing a Peugeot leading the Audi trio.
Sarrazin’s position at the top was not threatened for the remainder of the session: in fact, even with the No. 1 car out of play, the Audis’ 2-1-3 formation remained to the end of the session, with Lotterer’s time beating out those set by Rockenfeller and the No. 3 Audi’s Allan McNish. The two remaining works Peugeots, the No. 7 and No. 9, were fifth and sixth respectively, never mounting a serious challenge to the Audis. Are they waiting until tomorrow before mounting a full attack on the German powerhouse? Check back tomorrow to find out.
Peugeot might be hoping history repeats itself as last year the team captured the provisional pole on Wednesday with Sebastien Bourdais; this year it is Sarrazin primed to achieve the feat on the first of two days of qualifying.
In the petrol sub-division, it was traditional favourite Pescarolo Team drawing first blood, with Emmanuel Collard taking 10th in the No. 16 Pescarolo-Judd, the French team easily outpacing the Rebellion Racing Lola-Toyotas in this session, though five seconds adrift of the slowest of the diesels. The No. 12 and No. 13 Rebellions were almost two and three seconds slower, respectively, than the Pescarolo.
There might have been some changes yet in the closing minutes of the session, but LM P2 leader Nick Leventis spun the No. 42 Strakka Racing HPD ARX-01d at the Dunlop chicane, spreading pieces of bodywork all over the trackside. The HPD teams have limited inventory of some parts, so the team must hope that at least the tub is repairable.
Before that, Leventis had set the top time in the category at 3:42.615, half a second faster than the No. 26 Signatech Oreca-Nissan, and a full second ahead of the No. 48 Team Oreca Matmut Oreca-Nissan entry.
BMW follows practice pace with LM GTE-Pro provisional pole
Any of six manufacturers has a decent chance at capturing victory in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in the GTE Pro category. One stood out through the first day of practice and qualifying, BMW with its pair of BMW Motorsport-run M3s.
After pacing practice with their two cars first and second in class, BMW followed it up with a one-three in provisional qualifying. With the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari splitting the two, entrants in the full-season Intercontinental Le Mans Cup are currently top three on the grid for the double-points round of the ILMC season.
Andy Priaulx, about as big of an ace third driver to come in for endurance races, joined Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand aboard the car which set the mark of 3:58.426 in the first 20 minutes of the two-hour qualifying session. The time was more than half a second quicker than any other car in the 18-car class, and stood for the remaining hour and 40 minutes for the provisional pole.
Hand is looking for the endurance “Triple Crown” in 2011, in the No. 56 car. Priaulx captured four touring car championships in succession from 2004 through 2007.
After being nearly 2.5 seconds adrift in practice, AF Corse found the necessary speed with its Ferrari F458 Italia to move to P2 in class.
The team’s entry with drivers Giancarlo Fisichella, Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander was faster in the first and third sectors of the 8.4-mile, but struggled in the second sector for top-line speed down the Mulsanne straight in comparison to the BMW. The net result was the best time of 3:58.989 that Bruni set, also in the first 20 minutes.
BMW’s second M3 clocked in third in class, ahead of the two Corvette Racing C6.Rs and No. 59 Luxury Racing Ferrari F458, the car with technical support from America’s Risi Competizione. Two European-entered Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs from ProSpeed and Felbermayr-Proton, respectively finished up seventh and eighth. The top eight cars in class were all within 1.572 seconds of the leading BMW, a very tight margin over the course of a track this long.
Flying Lizard’s results with their Porsches were mixed; the team clocked in only 10th in GTE Pro but second in GTE Am. One American everyone has their eyes on, Michael Waltrip, currently sits 16th in GTE Pro in the second AF Corse F458 with Rob Kauffman and Rui Aguas; Aguas set the car’s fastest time.
GTE Am provisional pole went to Larbre Competition with its older Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. The French team has both a Porsche and an older Corvette C6.R. Flying Lizard’s GTE Am-entered Porsche with Seth Neiman, Darren Law and Spencer Pumpelly driving came second ahead of the Gulf AMR Middle East Aston Martin Vantage.
Although the Aston suffered minor bodywork damage from the accident with the Audi as described above, the car will be fine and repairable. Driver Roald Goethe was fine after the incident, having spun out ahead of the contact at Mulsanne.
The Robertson Racing Doran Ford GT-R and IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche were not so lucky on Wednesday. IMSA Performance team principal and driver Raymond Narac went off at Porsche Curves and contacted the tire barriers; the car suffered major damage and did not go out for qualifying. Robertson’s Ford spun in practice and only completed one timed lap during qualifying; the team’s garage was closed at the end of qualifying.