The 71st Le Mans 24 Hours
Wednesday Qualifying Report - Prototypes

Approaching 30 minutes into a very hot first qualifying session, and the surprise was Jan Lammers pulling off at the Esses on his out lap: a mechanic was 'assisting', or in other words, calling instructions to the Dutchman. The marshals assisted too.

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The R&S was first of the non VAG cars in sixth after half an hour, with a 3:46 from Marc Goossens, the #16 RfH Dome next up. Mark Blundell set a 3:38.5 within 20 minutes of the track opening, in still hot conditions. Race pace for the Bentleys? Lehto was the first R8 under 3:40, with a 3:39.8, quicker than Tom Kristensen's best in #7.

John Nielsen was the only 675 driver under 4:00, with a 3:51. The Bucknum Pilbeam visited the gravel, but made its way back to the pits - where the Lister had the engine cover off after a single lap of the circuit.

A cautious start all round. Just after half an hour, the #15 RfH Dome got going again.

Kristensen confirmed Bentley pace with a 3:37, for fastest time so far - less than 40 minutes into the session. With temperatures so high, now seems to be the time to get drivers qualified, work on set-up if necessary - and wait until 22.00 to go for a time...if that is the team's preference, a first day grid time.

Two Bentleys, three Audis, and then.....#4 R&S, #12 Panoz, #16 Dome, #17 Courage, #9 Dome, #26 DBA, #11 Panoz, #13 Courage, #27 MG-Lola (this group in the range 3:46.6 to 3:53.2). The del Bello Reynard was another eight seconds back.

Just past 50 minutes and Blundell (no, Herbert) set a 3:35.321 in the #8 Bentley: so much for guessing that the Bentleys would wait before going faster. #8's time was over three seconds faster than its best five weeks ago. Lehto's best so far was within half a second of the Champion car's best at the Test Day. Quick times already, with less than an hour gone.

Lammers set an impressive 3:40 before the hour was up, splitting the Audis - fourth place for the #16. The Dome was seen by our spotter with a slave battery plugged in, to get it fired up. Apparently a fuel line popped off.

One Hour

#8 Bentley 3:35.321
#7 Bentley 3:37.467
#6 Champion Audi 3:39.563
#15 Dome 3;40.792
#5 Goh Audi 3:41.653
#10 Audi Sport UK Audi 3:42.398
#11 Panoz 3:46.051
#4 R&S 3:46.688
#18 Pescarolo Courage 3:46.711
#17 Pescarolo Courage 3:47.349.

The Kondo Dome: remember we told you about the revised block of the Mugen V8, the one first tested on the airport on Monday morning? Ukyo Katayama set a 3:41.871 just after the hour, to place sixth fastest. That's three seconds quicker than at the Test Day.

Lammers too! He set a 3:38.923 at approx.75 minutes into the session, to vault ahead of all three Audis. A determined lap from a man frustrated at losing the first 45 minutes? Domes now third, sixth and 14th. Bosch climbed into the #15 fir his first turn.

John Nielsen beat his Test Day best by a good margin, with a 3:45.243. Intersport were next in 675 with a 3:53.

Kristensen confirmed Bentley form with a 3:35.765 for #8 - so the Bentleys three seconds faster than Lammers, then Champion, Goh, the Kondo Dome and the Audi Sport UK Audi. Nielsen next, three more seconds behind.

The Lister was down in 47th, with a 4:20. Twenty minutes left of the first two hour session, and Andy Wallace headed out in the #15. Lammers to go for it at 22.00?

Gearbox overheating in the Pilbeam, cured with a new oil radiator.

Incremental improvements for Champion, Goh and Kondo Dome with 15 minutes left. Marc Goossens had a moment in the R&S, and there's slight damage at the back (rear wing). The Intersport Lola has a blown engine, so that's probably the end of the day for Intersport (no it wasn't - engine changed in time for some laps at 23.45), while the NASAMAX Reynard is in (sixth) gear selection bothers.

The Durango.....a 3:53 is fairly impressive, but the Norma has been less so, best time a 4:08.

Last ten minutes...air and track temperatures cooler....and the Lister sets a 3:45.379, 13th fastest, quicker than the R&S. That's more like it. Courage #17, a 3:40.839 for Boullion, fifth fastest.

Magnussen third, a 3:37, behind the two Bentleys. And that's about it for now...the fun should start at 22.00..

Updates / Quotes

The Lister suffered from mysterious overheating: "We're bemused from Leatherhead," said Fiona Pearce. "It seems to have cured itself." Thicker radiators will be fitted for tomorrow.

Andy Wallace: "We've got a little bit more still to come, but it's going to be very hard to close the gap to the Bentleys."

22.00 - 00.00

Kristensen and Lammers lapped in close company from the off in session two, both on real flyers.

It was a 3:33.658 for ‘Special K’, Lammers next through on a 3:37.350 and then Brabham with a 3:35.222.

Much better news for Dome though was a big improvement for Gommendy in the #16 RFH Dome, up to fifth, both RFH Domes in amongst the Audis.

Kristensen then banged in a 3:32.843 on his second flyer, widening the gap as Brabham pitted for a change of tyres. The #7 Bentley was visibly quicker than anything else through the Ford Chicanes: Kristensen exceeded our predicted 3:33 - very, very impressive, confirmed by Guy Smith: “Tom did a couple of fantastic laps to eclipse the ‘sister’ Bentley which had topped the time-sheets after two hours. Once we had got provisional pole, I jumped in the car and concentrated on getting a good race set-up."

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Frank Biela was next in amongst the scrap, up to third with a 3:37.261 for Audi Sport UK – 3rd to 5th covered by four tenths of a second after 12 minutes of the session.

20 minutes in and the Dome falls another place down the timing sheets as Pirro banged in a time just a tenth shy of his 2000, 2001 and 2002 team mate. Biela though stretched the gap again to three tenths.

Lammers isn’t done yet though, out on the circuit and trying hard. His first quick one is spoiled by traffic, but he clears it to start another...probably his last effort...and it's slightly slower, as the light fades. Biela went quicker again, by a couple of tenths, so Audi UK and Champion on the second row, Lammers just ahead of Magnussen on the third (Mags, third fastest Audi? - he locked up into the Ford Chicane part two, the senior Audi men didn't), then Gommendy and Beretta on the fourth, the Panoz outside 3:40, and two seconds down on the much younger Dome design.

The Lister is out on the circuit and lapping quickly – up to 12th slot after 20 minutes, and only dropping to 13th then 14th as the R&S makes a modest improvement, and the Courage Judd gets into the 3:42s. The Lister is doing everything right, apart from struggling along the straights.

In LMP 675 the #31 Courage is improving steadily, up to 20th overall with a 3:55, two seconds slower than Jon Field - the Intersport Lola not moving during this session, but still second, to Nielsen of course, who found a second during the 22.00 to 22.30 period.

The Goh Audi (Marco Werner) has a trip into the gravel at 23.00 - and attempts at quick prototype laps are a thing of the past...until tomorrow, anyway. Or maybe we've already seen all the serious efforts at the front of the grid.

And then the Pilbeam's oil goes down - red flag at 23.15. The engine shut down in response to the engine evacuating its fluids.

Track action resumes at approx 23.35, but although the Intersport MG-Lola ventures out, it stops suddenly out on the track. It'll come right for the race.

And the first four hour qualifying period comes to a close, after an inconsequential last hour. It's night laps anyway for the drivers, but the flow has been lost after the red flag period. The only improvement was the Nasamax Reynard, which Werner Lupberger took round in 4:01, but the South African reckoned there's "another ten seconds in the car. I was slowing down because of yellow flags."

We're slowing down too....

 

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