|The 24 Hours|
Heavy rain overnight left the circuit greasy for the morning warm-up session at 09.00. The Silver R8 pair were first out, followed by most of the rest of the field.
Of the three Porsches in trouble yesterday, the #72 Taisan Advan car was out on circuit and lapping quickly, as was the #75 Perspective car. The news from the #77 Freisinger crew was more worrying. The car was still on the jigs as the session began, and frantic work was still going on. There are serious doubts as to whether the car will make the race. Another car in trouble was the #64 Corvette which stopped at the Dunlop Bridge on its out lap (the team reported later that a belt had broken on the oil pump but that the engine is OK). The #80 Larbre Porsche looks to have problems with its fuel system, pitting with fuel pouring out underneath the car.
With all the front runners looking to find a decent pace in conditions which could be close to those we'll find for the race, some were trying a little too hard. There were harmless spins for the Kondo in the #14 Chrysler (Dunlop Chicane) and Tom Coronel in the #4 Gulf R8 (Indianapolis). Klaus Graf's #11 Panoz was also in trouble with a trip into the gravel.
Others were keen for a moment of glory at the top of the timesheets: The #7 Bentley (Guy Smith), #17 Courage (Sebastien Bourdais), #5 Cadillac (Eric Bernard), #16 Chrysler (Pedro Lamy) and perhaps most surprisingly of all the #12 Panoz (Jan Magnussen) were all trying very hard. With the exception of the Bentley however, the factory Audis were easily able to move the goalposts as others came close.
By the end of the 45 minute session it was business as usual, with the #1 Joest car of new boy Christian Pescatori ahead of the sister #2 car of Emmanuele Pirro and Guy Smith's #7 Bentley. By then the track was effectively dry. Do these times suggest a highly competitive race - or not?
1 #2 R8 Pescatori 3:40.497
2. #1 R8 Pirro 3:41.567
3. #7 Bentley Smith 3:42.786
4. #17 Courage Bourdais 3:43.912
5. #5 Cadillac Bernard 3:44.366
6. #12 Panoz Magnussen 3:46.256
7. #16 Chrysler Lamy 3:47.112
8. #18 Courage Clerico 3:48.336
9. #3 Champion R8 Theys 3:48.422
10. #4 Gulf R8 Coronel 3:48.514
To try to answer that question, what do a couple of the Bentley drivers think about race pace? Andy Wallace and Butch Leitzinger were full of confidence for the business ahead of them. Andy expressed the view that "I'm expecting to lap in about 3:38, if it stays dry of course." He and the other drivers had had their early morning call at 06.00, so it's going to be a very long day and a half for them. Butch predicted a race pace of "3.40 to 3:43, with the works R8s maybe a couple of seconds quicker. I haven't done that many laps here this week, but I've been round with the Gulf car and the Champion one, and I got by them both - although obviously I don't know what they were actually doing at the time."
A brief, heavy shower hit the track at 11.30 this morning - perhaps an indicator of what lays ahead.
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