Peugeot set the fastest time in the first qualifying session for the 2007 Le Mans 24 Hours after a dramatic last-minute battle with Team Audi. The #8 Team Peugeot Total 908 of Stephane Sarrazin went fastest on the final lap with a 3m 26.344s lap to take provisional pole position by just over half a second.
In the first part of the session the #1 Audi Sport North America R10 TDI driven by Frank Biela looked set to be fastest after a red flag, and then wet weather, appeared to have prevented any further competitive times. Conditions around the circuit the session had effectively turned the session into a test allowing the teams to work through their preparations for the race.
In the final few minutes the track had dried sufficiently for the #8 Team Peugeot Total 908 of Stephane Sarrazin to go fastest, with the sister #7 of Nicolas Minassian moments later to go second, to provisionally hold the front row, before Allan McNish responded with his final two laps to steal back the provisional pole for Audi, only for Sarrazin to respond as the chequered flag came out to take back the place.
Tom Kristensen made his eagerly-awaited return to the cockpit after his DTM accident with two early flying laps in the #2 Audi Sport North America R10 TDI and set a 3m 35.476s lap, before handing over to McNish to set the competitive times.
The #16 Pescarolo Sport Judd 01 driven by Emmanuel Collard, Jean-Christophe Boullion and Romain Dumas had a lengthy early pit stop in order to change a shock absorber but held on to a top six position during the whole of the session.
The session was red flagged shortly after one hour due to a massive accident to the #53 JLOC Isao Noritake Lamboughini Murcielago R-GT driven by Marco Apicella. The car went off at Ralentisseur Playstation, a chicane between the Courbre d'Antares and Les Hunaudiers straights, heavily damaging the rear and right-hand side before spinning back round and stopping on fire in the middle of the circuit. The doctors took half an hour to extract Apicella although the driver got into Medical Car unaided.
A queue of cars formed along the pitlane as the session was about to restart but at the same time heavy rain started to fall on the far side of the circuit around Arnage and Indianapolis, along with thunder and lightening, and the cars were pushed back to the garages. The majority of the cars returned to the track with wet weather tyres but a handful tried slicks, as the rain was isolated to only part of the circuit.
The times slowly improved during the second half of the session but suddenly a 3m 29.410s lap from Sarrazin with twenty minutes to go made it clear that the track was now competitive and his subsequent lap of 3m 27.029s put him at the top of the timing screens, closely followed by Minassian in the sister car with a 3m 27.724s lap, only for McNish to respond with a 3m 27.017s lap, and then Sarrazin with 3m 26.344s to take back the place.
In the LM P2 class the #33 Team Barazi Epsilon Zytek 07S/2 driven by Haruki Kurosawa, Adrian Fernandez and Robbie Kerr finished fastest after a close battle with the sister #32 car of Juan Barazi, Michael Vergers and Karim Ojjeh, which ultimately finished fifth, and the #40 Quifel-ASM Team Lola-AER B0540 driven by Miguel Amaral, Miguel Angel de Castro and Warren Hughes which put in a late charge to finish second.
The #44 Kruse Motorsport Pescarolo-Judd 01 driven by Tony Burgess, Norbert Siedler and Jean de Pourtales ended the session early after developing an engine problem and requiring an engine change before tomorrow's qualifying sessions.
The #008 AMR Larbre Competition Aston Martin DBR9 driven by Christophe Bouchut, Fabrizio Gollin and Casper Elgaard took provisional pole position in the LM GT1 class in the final moments of the session from the #55 Team Oreca Saleen S7R driven by Stephane Ortelli, Soheil Ayari and Nicolas Lapierre, which had been running quickly throughout the session.
Team Aston Martin put in a strong challenge with the #009 Team Aston Martin Racing DBR9 driven by Darren Turner, David Brabham and Rickard Rydell eventually finishing third. "The session was okay," said Turner. "The team gave me first hour to get back in the groove. Everyone is struggling with the circuit and all trying different things to get the most out of the car. I'm just happy getting some mileage under my belt."
The #87 Team Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari F430 GTC driven by Andrew Kirkaldy, Tim Mullen and Chris Niarchos snatched the lead in the GT2 class after the #76 Team Imsa Performancec Matmut Porsche 911 GT3 RSR driven by Raymond Narac, Richard Lietz and Patrick Long led early on.
The #82 Team LNT Panoz Esperante GTLM of Rob Bell picked up a right-rear puncture at high speed during an early run. "On the third lap, about 100 metres before the braking zone, the front end of the car started juddering and the tyre exploded," said Bell, who was able to tour back around to the pitlane although the damaged bodywork required considerable repairs.
The sister #81 Team LNT Panoz Esperante GTLM driven by Tom Kimber-Smith, Tom Milner and Danny Watts suffered a clutch problem at the start of the session and remained in the pitlane for most of the session.
There were spins and incidents early in the session while the drivers got familiar with the slippery surface. Alex Yoong suffered an early spin in the #15 Charouz Racing System Lola-Judd B07-17 at the exit of Descent Chapelle after the Dunlop chicane but came to a halt in the middle of the track and was able to rejoin unaffected.
The #70 Team PSI Experience Corvette C6-R driven by Philipp Peter had a minor spin at the exit of Ralentisseur Dunlop and seconds later the #29 T2M Motorsport Dome-Mader S101-5 driven by Robin Longechal did exactly the same, but both were able to rejoin. The #29 also ground to a halt at the Dunlop chicane in the second half of the session with a technical problem.
The #44 Kruse Motorsport Pescarolo-Judd 01, driven by Jean de Pourtales, cut across the final chicane in order to avoid traffic and was thrown around as it passed over the gravel causing damage to the rear of the car. The car toured along the pit straight before coasting to a halt down at Courbe Dunlop.
The second qualifying session will take place on Thursday from 7pm local time (5pm GMT) with two consecutive two-hour sessions giving teams an opportunity to improve on the times set in today's sessions.