The 71st Le Mans 24 Hours
Thursday Qualifying Report - GTS & GT

Two red flags interrupted the early minutes of the session, the first for Jamie Campbell-Walter’s accident and the next following an oil spillage on the Mulsanne before the first chicane. The spillage was believed to have originated with a self-destructing engine from the #75 Perspective 911.

Before the red flag could be deployed however the T2M Porsche, Berville at the wheel and already propping up the timesheets in 50th place, spun on the oil and hit the barrier causing damage to the front right hand corner. The car stopped broadside across the circuit.

PK Sport too appeared to have been a victim, ending up in the gravel at the first chicane, Robin Liddell unable to hold the 911 after hitting an enormous oil slick. The #78 car though returned to the pit garage for a clean-up and a replacement rear wing.

One car that was able to improve in the already disjointed session was the Spyker, almost 2 seconds faster than last night’s sessions with a 4:19

Rob Barff was finally getting an opportunity to post some lap times in the #91 TVR, a 4:22 a big improvement for this car.

Kelvin Burt was pressing on in the #80 Ferrari 550, getting ever closer to the times posted yesterday evening.

The #95 Risi / ACEMCO Ferrari has a gravelly moment at Post 131, the exit of the Ford Chicane, Butch Leitzinger at the wheel. Slight damage to the rear end.

A further improvement for Barff in the #91 TVR a 4:20 pulling the car up another slot on the timing sheets and to within a second of the time posted yesterday by #91.

Pedro Chaves makes a big improvement in the Graham Nash Saleen with a 4:04 leapfrogging the two Vipers for 7th in GTS he further improves soon afterwards with a 4:03.

Ian Khan, the driver aboard the #75 Perspective Porsche when the engine went bang explained the incident :

“It was a fresh race engine and going down Mulsanne it felt a little tight. I was taking it very gently keeping the revs down and suddenly it went boom’. I steered it towards an extinguisher post but the back end had caught fire. The automatic extinguisher went off and there was so much smoke in the car I couldn’t find the handle. The marshal opened the door for me.” The Perspective Porsche is just a little singed but with a fresh engine will be OK for the race. All three drivers are qualified and Nigel Smith is thinking of selecting a restaurant for this evening.

At 20:30 another big improvement in GTS, this time for the #61 Pagani Zonda, Mike Hezemans posting a 4:04 a full 15 seconds quicker than yesterday.

The Pagani ground to a halt on the lead up to the first chicane with 30 minutes of the session remaining, the engine apparently dead.

Policand in the #72 Luc Alphand Ferrari 550 leapfrogged over the #80 Veloqx version as the clock ticked down, the blue and white car is now third fastest in GTS.

The cooler evening air is clearly helping the times to come down. Thomas Erdos making another improvement in the Graham Nash Saleen, a 4:02 putting the ‘British’ Saleen very close behind the mark of Franz Konrad’s ‘German’ version. With just moments to go in the session Erdos took the Saleen honours with a 4:01.

In GT Yogo improved in the dying minutes of the session in the Taisan 911, closing the gap to the Risi Ferrari ahead.

Tim Sugden too was improving towards the end, bringing more colour to the cheeks of TVR fans with a very respectable 4:16, seventh in GT.

Right at the end of the session Darren Turner makes a big improvement in the #80 Veloqx Ferrari, a 3:55.406 pipping the #50 Corvette for second in GTS.

The signs are good for at least a fair number of the GTS and GT runners that the cool start to the last session might well bring some final improvements.

At 21.00

The Top Five in GTS

#88 Ferrari – 3:53.278
#80 Ferrari – 3:55.406
#50 Corvette – 3:55.613
#72 Ferrari – 3:56.216
#53 Corvette – 3:58.941

The Top Five in GT

#93 Porsche – 4:07.996
#81 Porsche – 4:08.105
#87 Porsche - 4:09.857
#78 Porsche – 4:11.623
#94 Ferrari – 4:12.016

Conflicting reports regarding an 'off' for the Corvette #53 last night have now been confirmed. Ron Fellows hit a tyre barrier, the suggestion being that his air was taken away from him by one of the Bentleys, the sudden loss of downforce causing a big moment, which the Canadian did very well to just about control.

22.00 - 00.00

10 PM and the Green Flag waves for the final qualifying session for the 2003 Le Mans 24 Hours.

News from PK Sport is that they were without second gear for almost the whole of the first session this evening . the crew changed the box between sessions and the #78 car will be out again.

Thomas Erdos had a poor start to the session, straight into the gravel in the Dunlop Chicane.

Darren Turner started the session rapidly, drawing closer to the polesitting Veloqx 550 with a 3:54.725.

The #92 TVR had a quick spin into the gravel at the Dunlop Esses, some rapid work by the marshals though soon saw it back on track.

Christophe Bouchut improved in the early moments too with a 4:03 in the #86 Larbre Viper. Minutes later and Bouchut improves again into the 4:01s to split the Saleens.

Lucas Luhr was showing his mettle early on too, a fantastic 4:06.984 consolidating pole position for Alex Job. Timo Bernhard in The Racers Group 911 was pushing on too, he improved to 4:07.028, three seconds quicker than pole last year and just thousandths between them!

As the first half hour of the final session passed Marc Lieb in the Orbit 911 was trying to join in the fun with a 4:08.913.

Other minor improvements in the first 30 minutes of the final session saw David Terrien in the #70 JMB Ferrari and Michel Ferte in the #99 XL Racing Ferrari 550 making progress.

Another improver after 40 minutes was the #83 Porsche of Tony Burgess a two second improvement enough to lift the Seikel car four places up the order to seventh in class.

At 45 minutes the timing screens flash up with something of a surprise in ninth position overall with a 3:39.408 – the #50 Corvette!! Shurely Shome Mishtake!! Yes indeed, the ACO’s technical wizards soon restored order, no improvement for #50 still third in class.

As the third hour closed it looked as if the time for major improvements was over and the teams were settling into race pace practice.

 

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