Le Mans 24 Hours 2012; Qualifying Report
The headlines may be taken by Audi as they claimed pole position for the Le Mans 24 Hours 2012 last night, but some of the biggest smiles were in the Toyota garage as they kept on fighting to claim 3rd & 5th on the grid, separating the German manufacturers four cars.
The Audi R18 e-tron quattro car driven by Lotterer, Treluyer and Fassler will start the 80th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours from pole, giving them the best start on Saturday and the best chance of repeating their victory from last year by Sunday afternoon. The non-hybrid Audi R18 Ultra of Dumas, Duval & Gene will complete the front row of the grid.
Toyota did better than many had expected and split the Audis. They take up third on the grid, after Anthony Davidson, in the No. 8 Toyota TS030 petrol hybrid was able to improve his time 3:24.842. However he was still over a second behind the pole time of 3:23.787 set by Andre Lotterer early in the final qualifying session.
Despite nearly all the works cars attempting flying laps in the final minutes, as traffic got lighter, none could surpass Lotterer’s time. Even the experience and determination of “Mr Le Mans” Tom Kristensen in the other hybrid Audi was unable to improve his time, meaning that co-driver Allan McNish will start that car in fourth place alongside Davidson’s Toyota at 3pm on Saturday. The other Toyota did manage to improve its time towards the end of the session, passing the second of the diesel Audis to line up in a creditable fifth on the grid.
The privateer petrol engine prototypes, as expected, will have their own battle behind the two factory teams & there is an interesting battle from 7th down. The British are leading the way here with Strakka Racing making their Honda powered HPD the “best of the rest”. Danny Watts set down a marker early in the session for Strakka Racing & they were able to finish early as no other cars could match their time. Their closest challengers are the two black Lola coupes of Rebellion Racing who will start the race from 8th & 9th respectively.
The Pescarolo-run Dome prototype set a time good enough for tenth overall before crashing the car in the Porsche curves, after contact with another car, with Seiji Ara at the wheel. Fortunately he was uninjured but the car was damaged and the Pescarolo crew will have some repair work to do during Friday.
The LMP2 class this year could provide us with some of the closest racing. In qualifying, the battle between the Nissan powered Oreca cars and the Judd powered Morgans of Oak Racing was just an appetizer. The Oreca Nissan of the ADR-Delta team eventually prevailed setting a time 400th of a second faster than the first Oak Racing car whose time was set by the experienced Olviver Pla. Signatech Nissan finished 3rd in class ahead of the other Oreca Nisaan cars of TDS Racing, Pecom Racing & Murphy Prototypes.
In GTE Pro, the AF Corse team mechanics managed to get the No. 51 Ferrari back out on track in time for Toni Vilander to run his mandatory laps, after an amazing rebuild during the day. They will line up at the back of their class on Saturday, not what would have been expected under normal conditions, but they with a performing car and an experienced driver line up they are expected to be challenging later in the race. The GTE Pro pole went to the No. 59 Luxury Racing Ferrari 458 of highly rated Frenchman Fred Makowiecki, backed up by Jaime Melo and Dominik Farnbacher. They were followed by two different manufacturers, with the No. 97 Aston Martin in second and No. 74 Corvette in third. There is little to separate all the cars in the top GT category which ensures an interesting race tomorrow.
In GTE Am, pole was taken by the ever popular Flying Lizards Motorsports Porsche. Patrick Pilet set the fastest time of 3:57.594, for the American team, which qualifies them ahead of 4 cars from the GTE Pro class. Porsche are looking good in this class with the Prospeed car taking second in class with the Aston Marting Racing Vantage V8 its nearest challenger.
The invited Nissan DeltaWing, although not classified here, set a respectable time of 3:42.612. Although the Highcroft Racing team stated that they were concentrating on race set up, rather than qualifying times, this still puts them in mid-field (29th place overall) and in amongst the times set by the LMP2 class.
So the 80th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours starts at 3pm (French time) on Saturday, 16th June. Thousands will be watching expectantly to see how the race and its many battles unfurl.
Full timings list from qualifying is available here.
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Report written by Richard Webb
Photos by David Davies