The final qualifying sessions for the Le Mans 24 Hours 2011took place on thursday evening in the form of two sessions, each of two hours with frantic driving on the circuit and nail biting back in the garages. Despite both Peugeot and Audi claiming that they were preparing race set ups and not worrying about pole, both sessions became a dogfight between the two big manufacturers for the ability to lead in to the first corner at Le Mans on Saturday afternoon.
In the first session it was Marcel Fässler in the No. 2 Audi R18 TDI who broke the 3 minute 26 second lap barrier to be the fastest car. However he was closely followed by two Peugeots who were less than half a second behind. The first of the petrol cars was the No. 16 Pescarolo team who were followed closely by the No. 12 Rebellion Racing Lola. Again there was less than a second between them.
Clearly the Le Mans 24 Hours 2011 is going to be a close race.
In the LMP2 category the No. 26 Signatech Nissan car was leading the Nissan powered No.48 Oreca Matmut car, with Strakka Racing concentrating on the set up of their rebuilt car after the crash at the end of qualifying on Wednesday.
The Ferraris from AF Corse had a storming 1st qualifying session claiming the fastest cars in both GTE Pro and GTE Am classes. Their No. 51 Ferrari 458 managed to stay just ahead of the BMW Motorsport challenge and their No. 61 Ferrari 430 even managed to set a lap that some GTE Pro Porsches failed to match.
The final qualifying session got underway at 10pm local time and for some it was going to be a long two hours until the flag dropped at midnight. Tom Kristensen was an early mover getting the No. 3 Audi R18 up in to provisional fourth place. Peugeot were beginning to feel the pressure and whilst Bourdais was successful in improving his best his time he could not improve the position of his Peugeot, where as Dumas jumped to pole in his No 1 Audi. Confidence was high in the Audi Garage.
Signatech Nissan continued to head the field in the LMP2 class, but in GTE Pro the lead changed hands as Augusto Farfus set a very quick lap in the No. 55 BMW Motorsport M3. IN GTE Am nobody was catching the AF Corse Ferrari.
After a 20 minutes break under a red flag for a spun Luxury Racing Ferrari at the Mulsanne Corner, we were in to the last hour and all eyes turned to the battle for overall pole. After a few laps settling back in to the groove it was Benoit Treluyer in the No. 2 Audi who managed to clock a rapid 3 minutes 25.738 seconds. The damage was done with a remarkably quick third sector that lifted him in to pole ahead of his colleagues in the No.1 car.
In the final moments it seemed that each Audi and Peugeot took it in turns to try and snatch the pole position away from Treluyer. Tom Kristensen was on course to beat the time until traffic around the Porsche curves held him up and then Simon Pagenaud went similarly close, but only secured third position for Peugeot. Finally when Tom Kristensen ended up in the gravel trying just too hard to take the early glory, the session was ended and Bernard Treluyer had secured pole position for the Le Mans 24 Hours 2011 for the Audi Sport Joest team.
Final Qualification for the Le Mans 24 Hours 2011
(Top 3 in each class)
1. No.2 Audi Sport Team Joest; Audi R18 TDI (3:25.738)
2. No.1 Audi Sport Team Joest; Audi R18 TDI (3:25.799)
3. No.9 Team Peugeot Total; Peugeot 908 (3:26.010)
1. No.26 Signatech Nissan; Oreca 03 Nissan (3:41.458)
2. No.42 Strakka Racing; HPD ARX-01d (3:42.615)
3. No.48 Team Oreca Matmut; Oreca 03 Nissan (3:43.098)
LM GTE Pro
1. No.55 BMW Motorsport; BMW M3 GT (3:57.592)
2. No.51 AF Corse; Ferrari 458 Italia (3:58.040)
3. No.56 BMW Motorsport; BMW M3 GT (3:58.426)
LM GTE Am
1. No.61 AF Corse; Ferrari 430 (4:01.282)
2. No.63 Proton Competition; Porsche 997 GT3 RSR (4:03.532)
3. No.81 Flying Lizard Motorsport; Porsche 997 GT3 RSR (4:03.648)
Report written by Richard Webb
Photos by Dave Davies (on circuit) and Dan Carr (pit lane)
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