ALMS Teams Lead GTS, GT Classes in Le Mans Qualifying Le Mans, France - American Le Mans Series teams Corvette Racing and Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing set the pace in the GTS and GT classes, respectively, as the first day of ...
ALMS Teams Lead GTS, GT Classes in Le Mans Qualifying
Le Mans, France - American Le Mans Series teams Corvette Racing and Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing set the pace in the GTS and GT classes, respectively, as the first day of qualifying ended Wednesday night for this weekend's 72nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Eleven racing teams that regularly compete in American Le Mans Series events are in France to race at Le Mans, with the twice-around-the-clock endurance racing classic set to start at 4 p.m. (Paris time) on Saturday. Fourteen Americans and two Canadians are among the 144 drivers who will steer the 48 cars entered in the race.
The Corvette and Petersen teams provisionally earned class pole positions. However, a second day of qualifying is scheduled for Thursday, with four additional hours of track time. The starting grid for the race will be set by the fastest times from all sessions.
Oliver Gavin of England set the fastest time of the day in the GTS class on Wednesday as he turned the 8.46-mile Circuit de La Sarthe in a time of 3.52.158 in the Chevrolet Corvette C5-R. Gavin will co-drive with Olivier Beretta of Monaco and Jan Magnussen of Denmark in this weekend's race as the American auto manufacturer seeks a return to the Le Mans victory podium.
Jorg Bergmeister of Germany turned a lap of 4.09.679 to lead the GT class on Wednesday in the Petersen team's Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. Bergmeister will co-drive with two-time ALMS GT class champion Sascha Maassen of Germany and Patrick Long of Oak Park, Calif., in the Petersen entry, which hails from Las Vegas, Nev.
Leading the way overall and in the LMP1 class on Wednesday were the two Audi R8 Prototypes of Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx. The British team provisionally locked up the front row for Saturday's start of the race when Allan McNish of Scotland set the fastest overall lap of the day at 3.34.683. McNish will co-drive with Germans Frank Biela and Pierre Kaffer, the same trio driving to victory in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring that opened the 2004 ALMS season in March.
"We had some issues in the opening test which restricted us to a 3.38.229 (third fastest) but made adjustments during the interval which worked well, allowing me to claim provisional pole in the opening minutes of the second session," said McNish, the 2000 champion of the American Le Mans Series LMP1 class. "It was a comfortable lap with no real heroics required as the Audi was working very well."
The other Audi UK entry of Johnny Herbert, Guy Smith and Jamie Davies, all British, was second-fastest overall at 3.34.907, followed by the Japanese Team Goh Audi R8 driven by Seiji Ara of Japan, Rinaldo Capello of Italy and former ALMS champion Tom Kristensen of Denmark at 3.35.169.
The U.S.-owned ADT Champion Racing Audi R8 was fourth-fastest in the first round of qualifying with a lap of 3.35.892. Defending ALMS champion Marco Werner of Germany will share the car with 2001 champion Emanuele Pirro of Italy and JJ Lehto of Finland.
Behind Gavin's posting in the GTS class was the other factory Corvette driven by Ron Fellows of Canada, Johnny O'Connell of Flowery Branch, Ga., and Max Papis of Italy at 3.54.612. Third in the GTS class was the Prodrive Ferrari 550 Maranello of Tomas Enge of the Czech Republic, Peter Kox of The Netherlands and Alain Menu of Switzerland at 3.56.493.
"Every year I've come to Le Mans with the Corvette team, the level of preparation has been better and better," said Gavin, who was part of the GTS class winning team at Le Mans with Corvette in 2002. "This year is no different and it's a great environment to work within. There are a lot of real racers on this team and you can tell that every single person here is absolutely committed to winning.
"The track is very slippery," Gavin said. "It is clear that all drivers are struggling with it, but we are happy that, despite that variable, we're still four seconds ahead of the next competitor. On my lap I did encounter a bit of traffic and I also had a brand new set of brakes."
Second-fastest in the GT class was the Ferrari 360 Modena of Jaime Melo, Stephane Daoudi and Jean-Rene de Fournoux, all French, at 4.11.025. The combined Orbit Racing/BAM! Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Leo Hindery of New York, Mike Rockenfeller of Germany and Marc Lieb of Germany was third in class at 4.11.436.
"We're encouraged by today's time," said Mike Petersen, owner of the fastest GT car. "We have yet to show our full potential and the competition appears to be keeping it very close. Our goal is to be (fastest qualifier) tomorrow (Thursday) evening, and, as long as the weather holds out, we'll attempt to accomplish this. Ultimately there is still four hours left and anything can happen but, right now, it feels really good."
Race fans can follow Thursday's second round of qualifying online at www.lemans.org and can listen to the live English-language broadcast of Radio Le Mans online at www.radiolemans.com. The sessions begin at 1 p.m. (U.S. Eastern).
The SPEED Channel will have 20.5 hours of live coverage of the 24 Hours of Le Mans for North American television viewers starting at 9:30 a.m. (Eastern) on Saturday. Radio Le Mans will be live online for the entire race.