Successful On Track Debut for New Audi Hybrid

#2 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 e-tron quattro Hybrid: Rinaldo Capello, Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish
#2 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 e-tron quattro Hybrid: Rinaldo Capello, Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish

Photo by: Lucien Harmegnies

The cool temperatures (11°C air and 15°C on the ground) and high humidity did not upset the competitors during the first free practice session which took place without major incident, as the drivers made their first laps of the week on this very demanding circuit.

The Audi R18 e-tron quattro diesel hybrid, which made its first official appearance this morning made an instant impression on the track with the fastest time achieved by the winning crew of the Le Mans 24 Hours 2011 in car #1. With a lap of 2'04'' 434, Benoit Treluyer certainly did not beat the track record, but showed that the hybrid car already has a remarkable turn of speed. The second Audi hybrid fell between the two conventionally powered Audi R18 Ultra, the new version of the R18 prototype for 2012. The two new Lola-Toyotas of Rebellion Racing and the Dome of Pescarolo Team also had a sucessful track debut.

The Ferrari #51 of AF Corse set the fastest time in LMGTE Pro with a lap in 2'20''915, in the expert hands of Gianmaria Bruni and Giancarlo Fisichella. However, Porsche and Aston Martin were not far adrift; Marc Lieb for Felbermayr-Proton and Adrian Fernandez for Aston Martin Racing finishing only a few tenths behind.

In LMGTE Am, however, Porsche took control with a time of 2'23''135 set by Paolo Ruberti and the Felbermayr-Proton team (who are also entered in LMGTE Pro), followed by Nicolas Armindo and IMSA performance Matmut. A Ferrari, the 458 Italia #81 of AF Corse, completes the top three.

The second free practice session, which began 25 minutes late due to an incident in Radical Masters, one of the support races, was also been shortened after the Lola-Judd of Status GP left the track at the top of the steep slope of Eau Rouge.

The Audi hybrid #1 driven by Fässler, Lotterer and Treluyer, the winning trio of the 24 Hours of Le Mans 2011, once again set the fastest time of the session with a lap of 2'03''075, credited to the German speaking driver, well known to fans of Japanese championship Formula Nippon and SuperGT. Allan McNish, Oliver Jarvis and Loïc Duval complete the top four, followed by former Formula 1 driver Nick Heidfeld in the Lola-Toyota #12 of Rebellion Racing.

Olivier Pla led the way in LMP2 with the Morgan-Judd #24 of OAK Racing with a time of 2'10'058, improving by nearly six tenths of the time achieved by Soheil Ayari before the lunch break. The Lola-Judd of Status GP occupied second place, (as it did in the first free practice session), before leaving the track. Third was the Oreca-Nissan #26 of Signatech-Nissan driven by Nelson Panciatici, a rookie in endurance racing who has adapted quickly to his new discipline.

Porsche took control of LMGTE Pro, with factory driver Marc Lieb, who set a lap time of 2'19''668. The German driver who holds a PhD, was the only driver in the class down below 2'20 despite repeated efforts of Darren Turner for Aston Martin and Gianmaria Bruni for Ferrari (AF Corse).

The domination of Porsche in the GT classes was total at the end of the afternoon, Nicolas Armindo climbing to the front of LMGTE Am for IMSA Performance Matmut with a lap of 2'21'' 874 or more a second ahead of the #70 Corvette of Larbre Competition. The #88 Porsche Team Felbermayr-Proton was demoted to third position, having been fastest after the first session.

The cars and drivers take the track tomorrow morning for a final practice session before tackling qualification in the afternoon.