Le Mans 24 Hours
Wednesday Qualifying Roundup
The timing of the Qualifying
sessions at Le Mans is such that some of us need a night's sleep
- even a brief night's sleep - to take in what we have just seen.
Look at this
comparison between 2002 and 2003 qualifying times (so far):
Rinaldo Capello Audi R8 3:29.905
Tom Kristensen Bentley Speed 8 3:32.843
Tomas Enge Ferrari 550 3:54.091
Tomas Enge Ferrari 550 3:53.278
Lucas Luhr Porsche 911 GT3-RS 4:10.803
Sascha Maassen Porsche 911 GT3-RS 4:07.996
Mark Blundell MG-Lola 3:33.254
John Nielsen DBA4-03S 3:44.333.
So despite smaller restrictors,
the GT and GTS cars are quicker than a year ago. The 675s are so
far nowhere near last year's MG-Lola best times, while Tom Kristensen's
provisional pole is markedly quicker than the Bentley managed in
2002, and inching towards Rinaldo Capello's pole last June. The
ACO are apparently concerned that the cars are again very close
to the 3:30 mark, a time that M. Poissenot tells Andrew Cotton is
their benchmark for slowing the cars down (again).
Alex Job wa
surprised at the time Jorg Bergmeister set at the Test Day, but
very pleased that Sascha Maassen was quicker (and quickest) last
night. The 4:07.996 - "That's a neat time, as we're running
a Porsche 996" - was set with a "slight handling imbalance".
Clearly there could be the prospect of an even quicker GT time.
Sascha Maassen spent the whole of the first session in the AJR /
Petersen Porsche, working away at the set-up. It was appropriate
that he should stay in the car he knew for the '10 pm blast', and
as of nine o'clock this morning, the AJR plan for the day wasn't
clear. The mechanics were expecting to change the engine for the
race unit, but Alex Job had had a re-think, and was inclined not
to put up to another four hours on the race engine this evening.
Will AJR try and go faster
this evening? If the Wednesday engine stays in, there's an opportunity
to do so, but the first task will be to refine the set-up. "If
someone goes faster, they do," said the Team Owner.
Marc Lieb will
definitely be out to go faster than his 4:10 in the Orbit car.
Why are the
Ferrari 360s slower than the Porsches in a straight line, Alex Job?
"The five valve engine is less suited to running with restrictors
than the Porsche four valve." He also made the point that Ferrari
put less effort into the GT / N-GT effort than do Porsche.
We were discussing relative
speeds, 2002 versus 2003.....
Tomas Enge found
eight tenths of a second last night, compared to his 2002 GTS pole
time - and admitted that maybe he could have gone fractionally quicker.
Did anyone expect to see the top GTS cars going so quickly? Are
the Corvettes closer to the Ferraris on race pace than Wednesday's
qualifying times suggest?
Top speeds: we were keen
to get hold of top speed figures from the Test Day, but the ACO
was reluctant to release them. The best we have so far are the speeds
approaching the braking point for the Dunlop Curve. Here are a selected
#15 Dome 286 kph, #8
Bentley 285, #12 Panoz 283, #9 Kondo Dome (!) 283, #13 Courage 283,
#5 Goh Audi 281....with the other two privateer Audis in the 274-276
The two Veloqx-Prodrive
Ferraris were unsurprisingly fastest in GTS, at 267 kph, with the
Corvettes at 261 and 257, split by the Konrad Saleen.
AJR and Orbit reached
247/246 kph, with the #94 Risi Ferrari on 238 kph. The 4:12 for
this car is likely to be its qualifying time: that's the limit for
a Ferrari 360 at Le Mans.
So what's in
store for Thursday evening? Audi Sport UK are happy - "very
happy" - with Frank Biela's best Audi time, but we suspect
that Emanuele Pirro wants that honour tonight. It's steamy and humid
now, perhaps perfect conditions for later, unless we get a shower.
Racing for Holland?
Jan Lammers didn't find a clear lap last night, passing a GT car
round the outside of one of the Porsche Curves, then on anothe quick
lap, finding a GT car at the Ford Chicane. If the first two hours
go exactly to plan, perhaps we'll see Lammers going for a 3:36 tonight,
and the second row. Tristan Gommendy has been very impressive (too)
in the #16 Dome, desite finding lots of traffic on each fast lap.
improvement is likely to come from the Team NASAMAX Reynard, which
Werner Lupberger suggested is capable of a 3:52.
off with the 675s, in particular the Intersport MG-Lola. Jon Field
was as optimistic as ever this afternoon: he's got to be an optimist
after engine trouble with the first unit, a record-breaking engine
change to get out before midnight - which only led to more turbo-engine
troubles, and a fire which damaged the wiring loom. A replacement
loom was summoned from one of the MG Sport & Racing cars in
the UK, and Intersport should be ready to go at 19.00.
WR were in all
sorts of trouble with their new 900 car last night, and the #24
675 entry blew its engine towards the end of the first two hour
period, but the 'little one' has the pace to do well again in the
race - although all three drivers need to set their night laps.
This entry has its second qualifying engine in for tonight
There are currently
42 drivers who either haven't set a time within 110% of the class
best (or 125% of the first three marques overall) or haven't completed
three night laps - so there could be problems for a few after midnight
tonight. Six drivers haven't set a lap time at all so far: Lucas
Lasserre, Duncan Dayton, Rick Sutherland, Mike Hezemans, Anthony
Kumpen and Edouard Sezionale.