LE MANS
Le Mans Qualifying
-
14/06/2001
 
Friday
(Porsche) News And Prospects
 
This will be the last item under the Qualifying Index, as we'll be starting a new section tomorrow morning, in good time for setting the scene for the race. So this is a last look at two days of Qualifying - in some ways predictable, in some ways as unpredictable as this place can be (see the Porsche news below).

Audi. Now, how is it that the two silver cars can qualify so close on times? John Brooks is claiming the honours for predicting Dindo Capello on pole, but a gap of 29 thousandths to Tom Kristensen? How do they do that? One wag suggested that the new electronics system on the car can throttle the engine back as it crosses the line, so as to as nearly as possible match the other car's time. Nonsense of course, but the three R8s were extremely close in Qualifying last year. When Kristensen was second on the grid and won the race.......

We'll have to hope that race pace for the Audis this time will not be so relatively close (two seconds or so) to their Qualifying times as in 2000.

The interesting Prototype race should be among the group in the 3:34 - 3:40 qualifying bracket - unless Lammers can challenge for the lead, of course. Chrysler made no attempt to go for times on Thursday. "The good thing that we have seen is that the drivers are working very well together and we have a good car for the race," remarked Hugues de Chaunac. Olivier Beretta's 3:36 on Wednesday was as every bit as impressive as his qualifying lap at Donington in April - despite effectively no laps here on May 6.

I asked Beretta about his efforts here in a Viper, especially in Qualifying. "In perfect conditions, I am sure I could have done a 3:54 here, but there were always factors which meant that I didn't ever go for the fastest time possible. We didn't use qualifying tyres, for example, and the bumpiness of the road along Mulsanne meant that I couldn't brake as late as I wanted to. I think a 3:54, but maybe a 3:53 in perfect conditions."

That puts Oliver Gavin's GTS pole in perspective; a Viper could all but match his 3:53 - in perfect conditions. But Lou Patane was emphatic that the Vipers here are the ideal car for a 24 hour race. The Saleens have got a long way to go to earn that sort of recommendation - but they might start to build on their (12 hour) endurance reputation this weekend. Or the race could go the way of Corvette.....it's fascinating in GTS.

Back to the Prototypes. If Chrysler's 3:36.155 best from Beretta was not unexpected (but still plucked out of the blue), the Emmanuele Collard 3:37.402 in the #5 Cadillac was confirmation that this car is a quick 24 hour car now. Who would have expected Cadillac to all but match the Bentley best times (Brundle 3:36.535, Wallace 3:37.408)? Both Speed 8s failed to find a clear run though, time after time. And it seems that Guy Smith had a puncture approaching Indianapolis last night, at approximately 195 mph. That caught his attention, but he caught the ensuing moment, without visiting the new gravel trap. Let's hope that there's no more of that in the race.

Sebastien Bourdais set the best Courage Peugeot time (3:39.789), on Thursday, after being unhappy with the balance on Wednesday. Philippe Gache set the best Courage time of all, 3:38.746 - and the best Judd-powered time.

But these figures are all meaningless if they're not race pace. That will become apparent tomorrow. Just outside 3:40 for many? Or will the weather forecast come true, bringing a (potentially very) wet 24 hours? John Nielsen will be hoping for rain (he and his Goodyears love it). The word "storm" has been mentioned for the weekend.

675s? The MGs have been covered elsewhere, the Reynards are as quick (ROC and #36 Barbour) as expected, the rest as modestly paced as expected. Who will last for 24 hours?

A last little detail in this collection of Prototype points - a number of drivers haven't bettered the Qualifying minimum. Look at this list: Jamie Davies and David Brabham (Panoz), Hideshi Matsuda (Barbour Reynard), Chris Gleason and Rich Fairbanks (Roock Lola), and Warren Carway and Francois Migault (Pilbeam). All are expected to be allowed to start the race.

Problems to report for three of the Porsche 911 GT3-RS entries.

Trouble first struck in the first Thursday qualifying session for the #75 Perspective Racing car. Michel Neugarten spun on gravel at the first Mulsanne chicane, badly damaging the rear of the car against the tyre barrier. After precautionary x-rays in the medical centre, Neugarten was released. The car was too badly damaged to take part in the last qualifying session, but the team had already qualified all three drivers for the race. The team are now battling (with the help of other teams) to have the car repaired in time for the race. It is due back at the track at about 16.00 today, having been straightened at the same body shop that did wonders for the Taisan Advan car last year. Oddly, the magic body repairer was standing in the Perspective pit, at the moment that Neugarten went off.



Further Porsche woes in the last qualifying session: the #72 Taisan Advan Porsche (above), in the hands of Kazuyuki Nishizawa, had a major 'off' at the Porsche Curves, causing heavy damage front and rear (including the shattered gearbox shown).

The brand new car came back to the pits looking "as if it had dropped off a cliff" according to an observer in the pits, and has been sent to.....the very same bodyshop which repaired last year's Taisan entry after its roll in practice for the 2000 race (and is also handling Perspective's damage). The engineers of the Seikel team in the adjoining garage are astonished at the good humour of the Taisan crew, who seem to see the incident as a good omen (the repaired 2000 entry went on to win the GT class). The Taisan car is due back at the circuit by 18.00 this evening and should start the race.

Finally, at the same place as Taisan went off, (Porsche Curves) and within five minutes of the Taisan incident, (was there oil down?) the #77 Freisinger Porsche, in the hands of Gunnar Jeannette, also spun furiously. The car struck the wall backwards, causing heavy damage to the rear of the car (the gearbox - mounted inboard of the engine - was cracked from end to end). Again, the driver was unhurt and glum looking Freisinger mechanics said that the 911 would race - it will be a very long night for this crew though. We're still trying to catch up with Gunnar Jeannette to add some more detail.

So, bad luck for the three Porsche entries - or a clear signal that those who were satisfied with 4:18 in Qualifying were right in their tactics?





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