It may have been "only" a test day, but this was the first time that the all-powerful Audi and Peugeot prototypes had turned laps in anger on the same track on the same day. On the test day for the 2007 24 Hours of Le Mans, it was the French lion...
It may have been "only" a test day, but this was the first time that the all-powerful Audi and Peugeot prototypes had turned laps in anger on the same track on the same day. On the test day for the 2007 24 Hours of Le Mans, it was the French lion drawing the first blood, as the team of Sebastien Bourdais, Pedro Lamy and Stephane Sarrazin set the fast time of the day.
"The car is fantastic to drive," Bourdais said. "It is nicely balanced and if we succeed in putting in the same sort of performance in a fortnight's time, then we could possibly end up springing a surprise. We didn't run on qualifying tyres and I wasn't far off the car's maximum potential."
At 3:26.707, the time of the #8 Peugeot 908 HDi was 1.570 seconds quicker than the best of the Audis around the famed 13.65-km road course. The top crew for Audi Sport North America was the veteran team of Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner in the #1 Audi R10.
"We had a very extensive programme on our agenda, which we managed to work through almost completely," Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, the head of Audi Sport, summarized. "In the end, we were lacking merely ten minutes, otherwise we could have even completed the final tyre test we'd been planning to do. I think we've worked out a good base for the race today."
Audi also set the third- and sixth-fastest times, with Le Mans newcomer Mike Rockenfeller showing well in the #3 car, just 0.129 seconds off the pace of Biela. The #2 car was missing seven-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen, who is still convalescing after a heavy DTM accident, and the young teaming of Mattias Ekstrom, Lucas Luhr and Alexandre Premat was a few seconds behind its two sister cars.
Slotting into fourth and fifth were the #16 Pescarolo Sport of Emmanuel Collard, Jean-Christophe Boullion and Romain Dumas, a strong showing for the privateer team, and the #7 Peugeot with Marc Gene, Nicolas Minassian and Jacques Villeneuve.
With the American Le Mans Series' works LM P2 teams of Porsche and Acura giving a miss to the 24H race this year, the top P2 team was Barazi Epsilon, well back in 16th and 17th overall. Headed by Adrian Fernandez, who is looking for some Le Mans experience before bringing his Acura P2 to the event next year, the team's two cars scored identical times at 3:39.016, 12.3 seconds behind the Peugeots, but 1.5 seconds in front of the next P2 runners, Quifel-ASM.
Jan Magnussen showed that Corvette Racing has not lost of any of its edge, as the Danish veteran placed his Corvette C6.R at the top of the LM GT1 timesheet. Partnered by Ron Fellows -- the two-time Le Mans winner back from semi-retirement for the big race -- and Johnny O'Connell, the #3 Corvette looked very strong, with a 1.6-second edge at the top of the GT1 class.
"Today has been the best pre-qualifying I have ever had with Corvette Racing," Magnussen said. "We managed to set up the car just the way we like it and made very good progress throughout the day. We now have a car with which we can attack hard without risking falling off, which is exactly what we'll need for the race because I think this year will be a tough one."
Tomas Enge, Peter Kox and Johnny Herbert set the second-fastest time in the class for Aston Martin Racing; the trio was nearly a second faster in their #007 DBR9 than the #4 Corvette crew of Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Max Papis.
In LM GT2, it was Patrick Long setting the pace in IMSA Performance Matmut's #76 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR at 4:01.598. Partnered with Raymond Narac and Richard Lietz, he set the Porsche-dominated pace, with the #93 Autorlando Sport and #80 Flying Lizard Motorsports taking the next two spots for the German manufacturer.
All other things being equal, Peugeot's second-and-a-half edge at the top of the prototype class would translate to about three laps over the span of 24 hours. However, even if the Peugeots' reliability matches that of the Audis, a big question mark still hangs over the two rival cars fuel economy -- will the French cars be as frugal as their German counterparts? And what about tire wear?
The signs clearly point to a highly exciting 24H race this year!