|Le Mans Qualifying|
|No hint of rain here - far from it. Clear skies, pleasant temperatures, a perfect start to the meeting. Christophe Bouchut (left) told Marc Laffeas that he didn't think that the Larbre Viper could challenge for the GTS pole; the sky tells us everything about the perfect weather.|
Not perfect track conditions though - the usual dusty, dirty surface to start with, so no quick times early on. The #8 and #2 entries - Bentley and Audi - set the only two vaguely quick laps in the first twenty mintes, both managing 3:45s.
Then Kristensen and Coronel got going, the former a 3:40, the latter a 3:42. Not significant, really, except that the favoured manufacturers were fastest from the off. Johansson himself all but matched Kristensen's 3:40.566. With the Lammers Dome fourth, the order was much like the end of the Test Day.
Despite his remarks above, Bouchut was initially fastest in GTS with a 4:01. That's a good time for a dirty track. The (sister) Larbre Porsche was a comfortable four seconds quicker than anyone else in GT after 30 minutes.
Early days yet. Jan Magnussen set a 3:48 in his Panoz, which is encouraging for the team. The #34 MG has completed a couple of exploratory laps, while the other car hasn't set a time at all.
The Audis are beginning to form up in 'massed' ranks at the front, only the Champion entry (no time yet) out of the top four, as Emanuele Pirro sets a 3:39 after 45 minutes, then a 3:38. Pedro Lamy sets the first goodish Chrysler LMP time, a 3:45 to go sixth.
Anthony Reid goes ninth in MG #34! A 3:46. That's faster than a whole host of LMP900s - at this stage. No time set by the other car though, but MG are already showing potential 675 pole speed. Even more so - Reid sets a 3:44, now six seconds off the quickest time so far (one hour), Pirro's 3:38. 46 cars have set a time, and we're just trying to puzzle out which entry other than the #33 MG (below) hasn't set a time of any sort. Answer - the #37 Barbour Reynard. #33 was in trouble with a flat battery / faulty alternator.
At one hour:
The #36 Barbour Reynard (Didier de Radigues) has been in and out of the gravel at the Dunlop Curve; other than that, an uneventful first 60 minutes.
Second hour. Martin Brundle went second with 'his' Bentley with a 3:39, but Christian Pecatori went fastest of all with a 3:38.381, and followed it up with another 3:38 on his next lap. That seems to assure him of a very good reception from the team - he's proved his worth already.
75 minutes - Emanuele Pirro sets a 3:36.106 in #1. That's impressive early on (quicker than pole last year), but Anthony Reid sets a 3:42.065 in the MG, back in seventh fastest and a time a good deal better than a number of LMP900s at the Test Day. Sparkling stuff, MG. Sparkling stuff, Anthony Reid. Ten seconds quicker than the next 675 entry, the de Radigues Barbour Reynard. Just after getting out of the car, Anthony Reid told Peter Radcliffe that he was very pleased indeed with the car. "The quick lap was full of traffic, there's undoubtedly much more to come".
The Champion Audi has had a gearbox change, but that won't have held them up for long. Unusual though, so soon. A chink in the Audi armour?
GTS is stuck at around 4:01, Terry Borcheller going marginally quicker than the Larbre Viper, the two Corvettes also in the 4:01s. Close stuff.
All of a sudden it's looking very tidy for Audi as Ralf Kelleners makes it 1,2,3 for Audis #1, #2 and...#3!
Not for very long though as Martin Brundle takes back second with the #7 Bentley with a 1:38.358
Back in the real world the WR has struggled in with broken rear suspension and Terry Borcheller has taken a GTS car (the #60 Saleen) under the 4 minute lap barrier for the first time.
In GT the #80 Larbre 911GT3-RS has led the class almost from the start. The Callaway is going well too, fourth in class with 30 minutes to go in the first session.
20 minutes to go and Jan Lammers puts the #9 Racing For Holland Dome in 7th. Then he fits another set of tyres, stays in the car and looks set to go quicker still... Ron Fellows in the rumbling #63 Chevrolet Corvette has now leapfrogged the Saleen to lead GTS - 25th overall, with a 3:59. Bouchut sets a 3:58 immediately afterwards.
The ROC Reynard apparently has five gearboxes ready to be used. Before the car is started, the 'box is warmed with a hot air blower. It is still fitted with the original unit that the Reynard was launched with nearly 20 months ago. Look for a real fight from this team in the race. They're showing some useful form though, with a 3:48 so far, second in 675.
Is Brundle joining Lammers for a stab at a quick one? The Bentleys are just a few seconds apart as they hammer round, quite clearly going for times - van de Poele is in the #8 car. Yannick Dalmas is down to 3:40 in the fastest Chrysler, but.....we spotted Lammers about to go for it. The Dutchman sets a 3:36.352, only two tenths slower than Kristensen. Brundle's lap was two tenths slower than his former Jaguar partner, as he goes third. This is quick old motoring so early on. van de Poele didn't set a quick time.
Olivier Beretta pips Yannick Dalmas for fastest Chrysler, these two sixth and seventh as the session comes to a close. A good time for Kristensen to bang in a quick one, a 3:35.222.
The MGs are at extreme ends of the grid - well, extreme ends of 675 anyway. Reid's best is still good enough for 11th overall, the other car is right at the back, 48th fastest.
Tom Kristensen in LMP900, Ron Fellows in GTS - 3:55.552 from the big Canadian, a magical time for so early in the proceedings. Looks like Bouchut was right, no Larbre Viper on pole in GTS. Kristensen on provisional pole? No, Capello. A 3:34.880. Brundle drops to fifth, as Kellners also gets into the 3:36s.
Fascinating stuff, Audi as impressive as expected, Jan Lammers shining brightly, Anthony Reid showing what the MG can do, the Chryslers sixth and seventh. No change that, Cadillac set their best time here this year, a 3:40.070 from #5, splitting the Chryslers. The second Bentley and the Johansson Audi are ninth and tenth.
Other stories - a very big off for Johnny Mowlem in the RML Saleen, whacked off at the braking point for Mulsanne Corner by a Chrysler LMP. "It was a massive hit. I thought it was all over. I managed to hold the car broadside for a long way, and just kept it off the barriers. I thought that was it! But the damage was amazingly little. We'll be out for the second session. We're struggling with very light steering though." Johnny was visibly 'moved' by this incident. Was this the result for the Chrysler? No, this was another incident, showring the gravel (a new trap) on the exit of the second Ford Chicane.
The Rowan Pilbeam was marooned on the track with a crankshaft sensor failure. No, that was the first component that was suspect. It later turned out to be a blocked fuel filter.
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