Saulnier Racing Thursday qualifying report

Solid showing for Saulnier Racing in Le Mans qualifying Saulnier Racing enjoyed an encouraging start to their on-track activities at the Le Mans 24 Hours as the team's LMP2 Pescarolo 01-Judd went seventh fastest in class in Wednesday's first ...

Solid showing for Saulnier Racing in Le Mans qualifying

Saulnier Racing enjoyed an encouraging start to their on-track activities at the Le Mans 24 Hours as the team's LMP2 Pescarolo 01-Judd went seventh fastest in class in Wednesday's first qualifying session and LMP1 achieved a very strong time.

Frenchman Pierre Ragues set the car's quickest lap in the four-hour session, with a 3:42.545, and even more importantly the team's Le Mans rookies Cong Fu Cheng and Matthieu Lahaye both performed well while the car ran reliably throughout.

Cheng, the first Chinese driver to ever race at Le Mans, used his time in the car to good effect in what he admitted was a learning experience. The youngster, who races in A1GP and the F3 Euroseries, had only previously driven ten laps at Le Mans in the LMP2 prototype, all of those coming in the wet at the Official Test Day. Yet a strong performance, particularly during his night time stint, showed his huge potential in sportscar racing. "Everything is new and I am learning all the time," he said after qualifying. "I've never driven here in the dry, and although I learned the track at the test day, now I'm learning the breaking points and the technical aspects of the circuit. It's also the first time I have driven a racing car at night so everything is new for me! "My lap times were in the range of 3:50-3:53, although I think I can go much quicker. It's too early for that yet though as I'm still a rookie and I have to keep practising. My team mates are helping me a lot and I aim to learn all I can from them. Before today I didn't realise what hard work Le Mans is for both the driver and the team, but I am really enjoying it and looking forward to the rest of the week."

Lahaye, also a newcomer at Le Mans, was first to take the wheel in qualifying and also impressed with a best time of 3:47.057. He said: "It takes a few laps for your vision to adapt to the sheer speed of this circuit. The track was very dirty at the beginning of the session, but I had a good feeling in the car and was very pleased with the way things went. It's also a relief that Cong Fu Cheng and I have completed our three compulsory laps at night which means we are eligible to race."

Unfortunately, an engine change for Saulnier Racing's #35 Pescarolo 01-Judd virtually wiped out Thursday's qualifying session for the LMP2 class machine, but the team remain positive ahead of this weekend's race.

Pierre Ragues reported a misfire on his very first out lap as the green flag fell on the four hours session and the team opted to fit the race engine to the car. Sterling work from the mechanics enabled Ragues to return to the track for a couple of laps towards the end of the session, but only to shake down the Judd power plant.

Thankfully, Pierre reported no problems during his brief outing before the session ended. Having set the seventh fastest LMP2 time on Wednesday, the car's lack of running, coupled with other cars improving, means they will start eighth-in-class on Saturday, with all three drivers looking forward to getting back behind the wheel for the race.

Meanwhile, the team's LMP1 car driven by gentlemen drivers Jacques Nicolet, Marc Faggionato and Richard Hein ran trouble free during the four hours on Wednesday. Faggionato set the best time during the night time session with a 3:46.666, while all three drivers were equally matched for pace.

During Thursday's session, the #4 LMP1 team significantly improved their best lap time during an encouraging session. Having made several changes to the car's set up in order to find a balance between performance and driver comfort, Nicolet set a fastest lap of 3:42.162 early in the session, lowering Wednesday's best time by a full 4.5 seconds.

Team Manager Francois Sicard said: "I feel we have justified the ACO's faith in the team by giving us this entry. All the drivers have acclimatised to this very unique circuit in several different conditions. They have kept their composure and done exactly what we wanted them to do."

Jac ques Nicolet added: "We are much more at ease on the circuit now. Instead of concentrating solely on learning the track, we are starting to think about how to relax in the car and not be as tense. Tonight we succeeded in keeping a good rhythm throughout our stints, even on old tyres, and that is crucial for the race. We set a good time and we feel we are in the race."

-credit: sr

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About this article
Series Le Mans
Drivers Pierre Ragues , Matthieu Lahaye , Congfu Cheng , Jacques Nicolet , Richard Hein