Michelin final qualifying report

Herbert claims pole as Michelin dominates every class in Le Mans qualifying LE MANS, France. -- Audi R8s dominated the second qualifying session of the 2004 24 Hours of Le Mans to ensure an all Audi-Michelin front row for the start of the 81st...

Herbert claims pole as Michelin dominates every class in Le Mans qualifying

LE MANS, France. -- Audi R8s dominated the second qualifying session of the 2004 24 Hours of Le Mans 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: 143.466 mph) -- 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 monopolized the top-six positions in the final qualifying classification, while the French firm's tires were also fastest in the P2, 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 give Herbert his first Le Mans pole.

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 8.48 mile 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.

Newman Haas Champ Car star 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 (P1) but also in the P2, GTS and GT classes.

Jean-Marc Gounon qualified the P2 class N31 Courage on the 6th row with a time more than 10 seconds quicker than its closest opponent.

Meanwhile, the Corvette team celebrated its switch to Michelin tires by lapping the legendary circuit six seconds faster than in 2003 when the C5-Rs were running on a rival brand of tires. But it was Thomas Enge from Corvette's arch-rivals, the Prodrive Ferrari squad 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 Oliver Gavin's best effort in the N64 Corvette and a new outright record for a GTS car at Le Mans!

Finally, the N90 Porsche-Michelin of Maasen/Bergmeister/Long from the Las Vegas-based Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing squad 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," said 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 tire over three stints. Forecasters predict we can expect significantly lower temperatures for the weekend which means we are likely to see the full range of Michelin slick compounds used during the race."

Teams in this weekend's 24 Hours of Le Mans will take the green flag at 10 a.m. (Eastern) on Saturday, June 12. The race will be broadcast live on Speed Channel.

-michelin-

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About this article
Series Le Mans
Drivers Johnny Herbert , David Brabham , Oliver Gavin , Sébastien Bourdais , Jean-Marc Gounon , Thomas Enge