By: Tom Haapanen and Tony DiZinno, Sports Car Correspondents
- Audi breaks Peugeot’s pole position streak
- Rebellion Lola the fastest of the petrol cars
Treluyer’s fast lap wins the night for Audi
The top teams at the 24 Hours of Le Mans are traditionally at pains to downplay the significance of qualifying, and indeed grid position is relatively unimportant when 24 hours of racing follow the dropping of the green flag. However, there are always the bragging rights, and tomorrow it will be Benoit Treluyer in the No. 2 Audi R18 TDI that will be doing the bragging, having clocked a time of 3:25.738.
“(Pole position) is not really important, we always try to work for the race only,” was the comment from Wolfgang Ullrich, the head of Audi Sport, earlier in the evening. “We only give each of the drivers one set of new tires.”
We have a dream, a dream of a clear lap!
With drivers doing eight laps and more on a set of tires, and with lapped traffic the key challenge in Le Mans qualifying, it was really up to both the Audi and Peugeot drivers to look for that clear track that would give them a shot at winning the pole position. And for a driver, a Le Mans pole position will still get written in the record books, something not to be dismissed lightly.
Marcel Fässler had nipped Stéphane Sarrazin for the fast time at the end of the night’s first qualifying session, as the young Audi driver bettered his Peugeot rival by some two tenths, 3:25.962 to 3:26.156, the first lap in the 3:25s this year.
The excitement was yet to come, though, as expected, near the end of the second session. Treluyer set his fast time in the final half of the session, when he found clear track near the end of his stint, on well-broken-in Michelin rubber.
Tom Kristensen, “Mr. Le Mans,” gave it his all in an effort to win the pole position for the No. 3 Audi, using two sets of tires in the final 30 minutes of the session. With 15 minutes to go, Kristensen seemed to be on track for that top time with lightning-fast times in the first two sectors, but encountered traffic in the final segment.
Another visit into the pits to change the tires and check the engine, and Kristensen was out again. As the clock ticked inexorably toward midnight, the Danish Le Mans veteran set fast sector times and more fast sector times, but could not find three clear sectors on the same lap. On his final attempt, as the chequered flag was about to fall, Kristensen spun off at Tertre Rouge, putting paid to his attempt and confirming the pole position for Audi’s young guns: Treluyer, Fässler and Andre Lotterer.
Romain Dumas came closest to matching his teammate’s time, setting a time of 3:25.799, the only other car to make it into the 3:25s, but neither he, Mike Rockenfeller nor Timo Bernhard could find the combination of pace and a clear lap to move the No. 1 Audi atop the time sheets.
For Peugeot, it was disappointment as the team failed to claim the pole position for the 24H for the first time since the original 908 HDi FAP was introduced in 2007. It is unprecedented in qualifying for Audi to be able to compete with the French team on outright speed, surely a cause for concern for team principal Olivier Quesnel.
Simon Pagenaud was the fastest of the Peugeot pilots, putting the No. 9 on the second row with a 3:26.010, and Nicolas Minassian will start the No. 8 sister car next to him.
In the unofficial “petrol division,” Rebellion Racing kept improving throughout the day, and in the end Nicolas Prost in the No. 12 Lola-Judd overtook the No. 16 Pescarolo-Judd to claim eighth overall ahead of the legendary French team.
“It’s really important for us, the third pole in a row in the petrol class,” said Prost. “We are really, really happy about it.”
With Strakka Racing having packed up their gear for the night after the first session, Soheil Ayari took full advantage of the opportunity to take the LM P2 class pole position for Signatech Nissan with a lap of 3:41.458, more than a second faster than the best time set by Strakka earlier.
“The car was great today,” said Ayari. “With the work we have done today we now have an efficient car that is much easier to drive. The car is well-balanced and nice to drive so all I had to do tonight was my job!”
Team Oreca Matmut gave Nissan two of the top three grid positions in the LM P2 class, the No. 48 finishing with a time 0.4 seconds adrift of Strakka’s HPD.
BMW maintains GTE Pro class pole
Much as they did yesterday, BMW stood head and shoulders above what should be a still tightly-packed GTE Pro class grid. While the day ended with a class pole, it was not without incident for the BMW Motorsport team.
Right before a red flag 20 minutes into the day’s second two-hour qualifying session, Augusto Farfus set the eventual pole lap of 3:57.592, a full half second faster than anyone else in class. Brazilian driver Farfus co-drives with Jorg Müller and Dirk Werner in the No. 55 BMW.
“I didn’t get a run in the first session today, but knew the conditions at the start of the final session should be ideal for a quick lap,” Farfus said. “The car felt really good, and so I was able to put together a good lap and was delighted with the time I set. Pole is certainly not vital for a good result in a 24 hour race, but it is a great feeling to know your car is the quickest in its class. Add to this the reliability that it has shown all year and I feel pretty confident ahead of the race.”
Pole is certainly not vital for a good result in a 24 hour race ...
While the No. 56 held the provisional pole after Wednesday’s first qualifying session with the No. 55 clocked in third, those two flipped positions at the end of the day.
The day for the No. 56 ended in agony as Andy Priaulx crashed at the Ford Chicane. Priaulx clipped a curb and then shot across the track into the outside retaining wall. While the Englishman was okay, his car was not after suffering some damage to the front end. Still, the time held for third on the grid.
To complete the “groundhog day” in class, AF Corse’s No. 51 Ferrari F458 Italia again split the BMWs as it did yesterday.
AF Corse held the provisional pole after the second qualifying session, held from 7 to 9 p.m. local time, with a lap of 3:58.050 with a lap set by Gianmaria Bruni. But the Italian, his countryman Giancarlo Fisichella or their third driver Finnish ace Toni Vilander were able to drop below the 3:58 mark once Farfus set his fastest time.
Corvette Racing’s No. 74 Corvette C6.R wound up fourth ahead of the Hankook Team Farnbacher Ferrari F458 and sister No. 73 Corvette.
Porsche continued to struggle, and despite running primarily low downforce setups to increase speed down the Mulsanne straight, their cars were compromised through the corners with a horsepower deficit to the BMWs. The fastest Porsche qualified only seventh, with the No. 77 Felbermayr-Proton entry. Flying Lizard’s No. 80 Porsche in GTE Pro clocked in only 12th in the 18-car class.
AF Corse’s No. 71 Ferrari F458 improved its time to 4:02.216, 15th in class, by a full six seconds from its Wednesday time. While Rui Aguas set the fastest time, he is driving with Michael Waltrip and Rob Kauffman in their respective Le Mans debuts and the team has earned a wealth of attention.
GTE Am saw Ferrari take the pole, as AF Corse got the one that slipped away in the Pro class. The team’s less heralded trio of Marco Cioci, Piergiuseppe Perazzini and Sean Paul Breslin set the mark in their No. 61 Ferrari F430 GT at 4:01.282, and blew second place into the weeds.
The Proton Competition No. 63 Porsche 911 came in second with a time of only 4:03.532, more than 2.3 seconds adrift in a year when the top six in LMP1 were separated by only 0.534 of a second over the 8.4-mile circuit.
“We had some problems in practice but the guys did an incredible job to make a lap by lap change in the setup and mood of the car,” Cioci said. “I have to say I want to make a great result for the guys in the category. Not only are we on pole, but to be on pole in Le Mans I’m really proud about it.”