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

In warm and sticky conditions the field took to the track for the first of the evening’s two, two hour qualifying sessions.

The #83 Seikel Porsche, Andrew Bagnall at the wheel sets the first marker with a 4:31, only to be immediately pipped by the PK Porsche with a 4:29 at the 11 minute mark.

In GTS it was Frederic Dor's Ferrari first to show pace with the blue and white #72 posting a 4:02 (Policand).

Kevin Buckler’s Racers Group Porsche posted a 4:16 at the 12 minute mark as a GTS battle began to develop, both Veloqx Prodrive ferraris and both Corvettes circulating in close formation.

At the half hour mark it was a Ferrari 1,2,3 with Jerome Policand in the Luc Alphand version splitting the Prodrive cars, Peter Kox in provisional pole with a 4:01 and Kelvin Burt in #80 in third with a 4:03

No sign at all of the Zonda on track in the first 30 minutes

The GT battle was looking like a Porsche benefit in the early stages, Marc Lieb putting the Orbit car into provisional pole with a 4:14. Terry Borcheller in the #94 Risi ferrari put a cat amongst the Porsche pigeons at 20 minutes with a 4:17, good enough for third slot at 30 minutes. Fourth at that stage was – the Spyker! Norman Simon posting a respectable 4:23

TVR fans will be pleased to hear that both cars were lapping safely and quickly a 4:27 for Richard Stanton and a 4:29 for Tim Sugden putting the cars in 38th and 39th positions.

At 30 minutes the Perspective Racing Porsche had still not appeared on track.

At 40 minutes Kevin Buckler is spotted in the gravel at the entrance to the Porsche Curves.

Sascha Maassen grabs the advantage in GT at 40 minutes with a 4:13.299 in the Alex Job / Petersen Porsche.

GTS was still a Ferrari 1,2,3 at 45 minutes, with the Corvettes in 4th and 5th slots, Christophe Bouchut in 6th for Larbre until Franz Konrad grabbed the slot in the #66 Saleen, painted in the same colours as John Hindhaugh’s kitchen (allegedly).

At 45 minutes both TVRs have improved into the 4:23s. Much better than at the Test Day (better gearing?).

50 minutes and the Veloqx cars were 1,2 in GTS, Anthony Davidson pipping Policand by a few hundredths and trailing Enge by much the same marin. That was the spark that the Czech seemed to need. He blitzed around in the #88 car in a 3:57 a full 4 seconds faster than the #80 car. The prodrive Ferraris are rocket ships.

In GT Maassen was looking keen to consolidate his advantage with a 4:12.789 for Alex Job.

As the hour approached the Corvette’s pace started to kick in, Ron Fellows getting quicker in #53 but being bettered Andy Pilgrim, just five thousandths shy of Policand’s time in the Alphand 550. Things were hotting up on the track as it cooled down for everybody watching - abd those in some very hot cockpits.

Hour two saw things calming down for some:

Mike Jordan however in the #92 TVR had the hammer down posting a very respectable 4:21 .

All 50 cars were by now circulating. The Pagani was delayed a brake balance problem and Perspective with some late work on the front splitter.

Maassen continued to make good his escape posting a 4:11.5, almost 3 seconds up on Marc Lieb’s time in the Orbit car.

There were extraordinary scenes at the first chicane when a marshal ventured out onto the racing line to assess (using a Riverdance-like shuffling movement) whether a journey across the gravel and a spin from a Ferrari 360 had been caused by oil – it hadn’t!

90 minutes into the session and Fellows put the #53 'Vette amongst the 550s, second in class with a 4:01.175. He was soon joined in the top three by Ollie Gavin in #50. With 20 minutes of the session to go there was just 0.6 seconds covering second through to fifth positions in GTS.

The second (#91) TVR went missing out on the circuit at around 80 minutes.

Robin Liddell put the PK Porsche up to fourth in class before being pipped by Jorg Bergmeister in the #81 Racers Group Porsche. Bergmeister clearly had found his rhythm and soon grabbed second in class from Orbit. Liddell would improve his time further (a 4:14.460) still fourth in GT

Better still from the #92 TVR came from Michael Caine, a 4:20.277 good enough for seventh in GT with 15 minutes of the session left.

Peter Kox was reported to be in the gravel out on the circuit as the clock ticked down. It rejoined after a short delay.

Johnny O’Connell took a Corvette (#53) under 4 minutes for the first time with less than ten minutes of the session remaining. Ollie Gavin though gave the Prodrive squad the shock of their lives with five minutes of the session left blitzing the Enge mark with a 3:55.613. That will be a huge mountain to climbe in the second session for the GTS opposition.

Maassen meanwhile was ensuring that any challenger had to try very, very hard to grab provisional GT pole from him, a 4:10.650 was three seconds quicker than second placed Bergmeister, another mountainous task awaits the GT contenders in session two.

Caine in the #92 TVR popped up at the chequered flag with a 4:19.378, good enough for ninth in class at the end of the first qualifying session.

Top three in GTS....Gavin 3:55.613, Enge 3:57.544 (on race tyres), O'Connell 3:59.572.

Top three in GT....Maassen 4:10.650, Bernhard 4:13.519, Lieb 4:14.280 (PK fourth).

#91 TVR has returned to the pits under its own power.

Updates / Quotes

Ollie Gavin: There's more to come. That was our first run on those tyres. I can brake later into the second Mulsanne Chicane and into Indianapolis, but overall we've had a game plan and stuck to it. Johnny (O'Connell) hit traffic on his best lap."

The Corvette drivers are feeling confident, especially based on pace over a longer run (compared to the 550s). Perhaps Veloqx-Prodrive are holding something back though...for 22.00?

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Jorg Bergmeister: "We lost some time in that session with the trip into the gravel, and Sascha spent almost the whole session in the AJR car. I only had two laps, but I believe we can close the gap."

The drama for the #91 TVR in the first session was a slow puncture. Richard Hay took the sensible option and pulled off the circuit just after Tetre Rouge. Rob Barff was due in the car next but will now start the second session.

22.00 - 00.00

In GTS a blistering start to the session from Enge saw him grab provisional GTS pole with a 3:53.615 in the #88 Ferrari 550. No one will beat that, surely? "Not a very stylish lap," said the Czech.

In GT it was an early 4:08 for Maassen. Robin Liddell was next to show with a 4:11.623 taking PK Sport up to second in class after 15 minutes.

20 minutes into the session and the second, #80 Prodrive Ferrari grabbed third in GTS with a 3:56.848.

The cooler evening air clearly suits the Porsche runners as the times continue to tumble.

Timo Bernhard was next up, grabbing provisional pole with a 4:08.105 for The Racers Group. Marc Lieb in the Orbit Porsche improved too, up to third with a 4:10.292, Liddell fourth, Risi's Michelin-shod Ferrari fifth, the Taisan Porsche sixth, JMB seventh and Risi's Yokohama car eighth. Johnny Mowlem then had his helmet stolen!

Marc Lieb wasn't particularly happy with provisional third in GT: "I had a big problem with my qualifying set - I couldn't get the tires warmed up correctly, so I locked up the brakes in the first chicane," Lieb said. "I lost a lot of time, so I'm really disappointed with the time I did. But the car is fantastic, the crew did a fantastic job, so it's just upto me to get it [the class pole position] tomorrow."

Rob Barff, in the #91 TVR at last, sadly appeared in the pitlane with the engine dead, the car is pushed back to its pit stall.

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Maassen responded to the challenge from Bernhard, breaking into the 4:07s (4:07.996) after 30 minutes of the session. That's quicker than Bergmeister managed at the Test Day.

Darren Turner was on the move after 35 minutes, slicing half a second out of Oliver Gavin’s advantage.

After 45 minutes with darkness having fallen completely, most of the leading runners reverted to simulations for race pace.

There was a fright for David Warnock in the PK Sport Porsche, sideswiped by a prototype in the Dunlop Chicane, the impact damaged a track rod, a 20 minute fix for Mike Pickup’s crew.

Ollie Gavin explained that the #50 Corvette has a minor gearbox glitch which has taken the edge off the pole battle in GTS.

The Zonda crew is in learning mode, David Hart retired for his evening meal with the riposte, “This is what happens when you don’t test." The Pagani is in the garage with several oil leaks.

One car which was showing improved pace as the hour mark approached was the Luc Alphand Ferrari, Jerome Policand drawing to within six tenths of a second of the #80 Veloqx Prodrive 550.

Whilst GTS looked like going Ferrari’s way, in GT it was a Porsche 1,2,3,4 at the hour mark. The #94 Risi 360 was the highest placed of the three Modenas. The Spyker has a misfire, which appears one and a half laps into a spell of track action...

Red flag at 23.15 - the Pilbeam has spread its oil rather liberally.

 

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