Michelin final qualifying report

An all Audi-Michelin front row at Le Mans Audi R8s dominated the second qualifying session of the 2004 Le Mans 24 Hours to ensure an all Audi-Michelin front row for the start of the 81st anniversary race. Driving the N88 car...

An all Audi-Michelin front row at Le Mans

Audi R8s dominated the second qualifying session of the 2004 Le Mans 24 Hours to ensure an all Audi-Michelin front row for the start of the 81st anniversary race. Driving the N88 car (Davies/Herbert/Smith), Briton Johnny Herbert posted this year's benchmark time - 3m32s838 (average: 230.880 kph) - shortly after the start of tonight's second half-session to seal pole-position, 5/1000ths of a second quicker than the 2003 pole time! The evening's surprise came from David Brabham who split the Audi ranks to place his Zytek-Michelin on the second row. Michelin runners monopolised the top-six positions in the final qualifying classification, while the French firm's tyres were also fastest in the LMP2, GTS and GT categories with the N31 Courage (12th o/a, Frei/Gounon/Hancock), the N66 Ferrari (17th, Enge/Kox/Menu) and the N90 Porsche (32nd, Maassen/Bergmeister/Long).

In a dramatic flourish of fastest times at the end of Thursday evening's first half-session and at the beginning of the second half-session, Audi- Michelin's Johnny Herbert came out on top of his battle with the other private Audi-Michelin teams to secure the first pole-position of his career in the Le Mans 24 Hours. The British driver profited from the final minutes of daylight to squeeze past the Team Veloqx sister car of Biela/Kaffer/McNish with a lap a little under 4/10ths of a second quicker than the N8 machine round the 13,65 km circuit.

Many had been predicting an Audi-Michelin 1-2-3-4 in qualifying, but the ranks of the German make's privateer teams will in fact be infiltrated on Saturday afternoon's grid by the N22 Zytek-Michelin of Wallace/Brabham/Shimoda and by the N17 Pescarolo-Michelin of Collard/Bourdais/Minassian. David Brabham popped seemingly out of nowhere to secure the 3rd fastest lap with the Zytek Engineering car, while Sebastien Bourdais (5th best time) succeeded in splitting the Audi- Michelins of Ara/Capello/Kristensen (N5) and Lehto/Werner/Pirro (N2). The six fastest cars in qualifying were split by a mere 2.1 seconds.

Michelin's bid to repeat its record of victory in every category in 2003 got off to a flying start tonight with fastest times not only at the very top of the timesheets (LMP1) but also in the LMP2, GTS and GT classes.

Jean-Marc Gounon qualified the N31 Courage on the 6th row with a time more than 10s quicker than its closest opponent. Meanwhile, the Corvette team celebrated its switch to Michelin tyres by lapping the legendary circuit 6 seconds faster than in 2003 when the C5-Rs were running on a rival brand of tyres. But it was Thomas Enge who claimed the fastest GTS time with the N66 Ferrari-Michelin just before midnight, Thursday, with a lap of 3m 49s438. That was 3/10ths quicker than Olivier Beretta's best effort in the N64 Corvette and a new outright record for a GTS car round the 13.65 km track! Finally, the N90 Porsche-Michelin of Maasen/Bergmeister/Long was the fastest GT car on the track, just over a second quicker than the N70 Ferrari-Michelin (Melo/Daoudi/de Fournoux).

"Following this afternoon's rain, the track was much quicker today. And that was confirmed by the time posted by the N22 Zytek which kicked off hostilities this evening," commented Michelin Competition's Circuit Activities Manager Matthieu Bonardel. "In addition to ensuring all our partner cars qualified as well as possible, we profited from the cooler, latter part of Thursday's session to evaluate our latest soft compound night tyre over three stints. Forecasters predict we can expect 10C lower temperatures for the weekend which means we are likely to see the full range of Michelin slick compounds used during the race."

Michelin tyres out to make it seven-in-a-row at Le MansLa mission de Michelin au Mans

At the stroke of 4 p.m. on the afternoon of Saturday June 12th, the 2004 Le Mans 24 Hours will get under way in the form of a rolling start. More than half the field - twenty-seven cars out of fifty - will be running on Michelin tyres which will be out not only to secure a seventh consecutive outright win in La Sarthe but also success in every category, just as they did this time last year.

The challenge they face is one of the toughest in motor sport, including top speeds of up to 320 kph and average speeds of more than 210 kph, sometimes for as many as four stints. That's close to 700 km, with only three lightning refuelling stops to break up the unrelenting pace of the French classic.

As ever, in tyre terms, the keys to success will be performance, endurance and consistency, but the ability to anticipate, react and adapt is equally essential, especially if the weather proves fickle. In which case, the unique experience and savoir-faire of Michelin's technical staff once again promises to be a valuable asset to the French tyre firm's partner teams.

-michelin-

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About this article
Series Le Mans
Drivers Johnny Herbert , Tomas Enge , David Brabham , Sébastien Bourdais , Jean-Marc Gounon , Olivier Beretta