72nd Le Mans 24 Hours - Wednesday Qualifying - Session 1 Report (19.00-21.00)
GAVIN'S SURPRISE?

The Nasamax was sitting at the top of the pit lane for at least 20 minutes, prior to the start of the first two hour session: this was sending out a message of intent from the green team from Sittingbourne, and Werner Lupberger looked ‘hungry’.

The weather remains absolutely perfect – although still too warm at 19.00 for fast times, and they never come early on anyway: the track needs cleaning up, for instance. We’re trying to be patient, until the first batch of fast times, either side of the 21.00-22.00 break.

Fast times after ten minutes came from Lupberger (3:52) and then the two Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx Audis (3:42/43 – Kaffer and Smith) – and then the two RfH cars, Coronel and Lammers also setting 3:42/43. Quick(ish) times so soon into the session, but they were just feeling each other out, with drivers getting some of their qualifying laps in. Lupberger pitted for a gear ratio change, the Nasamax already 6 kph faster on the straights than at the Test Day.

The GT Class was slower to settle in to fast times, no one so far getting under 4:20 – and no one in GTS setting a representative lap, yet.

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JJ Lehto was the first into the 3:40s, while Chris Dyson (above) went second fastest after 25 minutes with a low 3:42 – that is, if you disbelieve an amazing 3:29 (no typo. – that’s what the screen says) for Vassiliev in the ‘slower’ of the two Yukos Freisinger Porsches.

The two Corvettes were already into the 3:58s, as quick as the Fellows car managed by the end of qualifying last year. The two Care Racing 550s were a tad slower.

And that’s the first half hour gone, with only the Panoz not having gone out, and the 16 RfH Dome stuck out on the track. We’ve been here before with a black and white Dome.

Now Ara gets down to business in the Team Goh Audi - he pops up in second slot in the 3:41s before topping the timing charts next time around with a 3:39. Pierre Kaffer joins in with a 3:42.444, good enough for third fastest at the moment. Not for long though, Guy Smith in the 88 makes it an all Audi top four with a 3:39.802, just a tenth off Ara's mark.

In GTS it had been remarkably close between the Corvettes and the two Prodrive 550s - all four posting times in the 3:58s. Olivier Beretta however had other ideas and a 3:56.686 showed he meant business. Peter Kox had similar intent towards the top of the first hour, a 3:57 splitting the 'Vettes.

Katoh then put in credible lap times in the Dome Mugen. The top seven at the hour mark is Audi 1-4 (JJ Lehto popping up with a 3:39.091 to head the timing charts by half a second) and Dome 5-7. Eighth is now the 18 Pescarolo with Soheil Ayari at the wheel with the Andy Wallace pedalled Zytek in ninth and Tommy Erdos in the RML MG Lola rounding out the top 10.

LMP2 is headed by J-M Gounon in the factory Courage C65, the newly re-engined car currently nine seconds quicker than its nearest class rival - but this class hasn't got going yet.

GT was beginning to liven up too, Daoudi in the JMB Ferrari posting a 4:12, well up at the moment on the BAM and Petersen Porsches.

Interesting observation: attached to the Goh Audi are Jo Hausner and Ralf Juttner, which could be an indication of the value placed upon a sixth win for Tom Kristensen. Dave Benbow is engineering this car now (he engineered the Jaguar that won in 1990), while Brian Willis, who was engineering the Goh R8 at Monza, is now with the team's sister car, the Chroq Porsche.

As the second hour got under way, the 575 Ferraris were ten seconds off the class-leading rivals. The 16 RfH car is still stuck out on the track, and we're in the process of finding out why. It's still sixth quickest though, after one timed lap.

GT is JMB, BAM!, Petersen, Perspective and then the 89 TVR, the last with a 4:18.5. The Morgan and the other TVR are lapping in the 4:31s.

After 70 minutes, the Zytek gets a move on, Andrew Wallace setting a 3:44. Not a significant time yet, but eighth quickest, behind four R8s and three S101s: Wallace then went seventh, ahead of the Advan Dome.

Our man in the know tells us that Dave Smith of Caterpillar has commeneted that the Taurus diesel has a 'frothing' problem when refuelling, and that the ACO has not allowed an anti-frothing agent to be used (which could conceivably give a performance advantage). The diesel-powered car may not be able to fill its tank. Currently the 10 Lola-Caterpillar has set a best time of 4:21.

The 17 Pescarolo is in trouble at 47th fastest, a best time of 7 minutes odd.

Alex Caffi has been in trouble with the 83 Seikel Porsche, the wrong final drive having been fitted, apparently, the car unable to break 250 kph on the straights. It's having the correct final drive fitted (below), and hasn't set a timed lap yet.

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80 minutes into the session, Jamie Davies and Jan Lammers are the first into the 3:38s. Faster and faster they go.

dailysportscar.comAlex Caffi goes third fastest in GT on his first flying lap with the correct final drive in the faster Seikel Porsche. The Racer's Group Porsche ended up 41st overall.

Tom Coronel is bck to the pits, but alas the Dome isn't. The clutch was slipping so badly that he couldn't complete a second flying lap.

The Panoz has been delayed by late arrival of parts from the US, and it's still being put together. That's a shame. Gunnar Jeannette reports that the (ALMS) Panoz Esperante GT has masses of potential.

Nigel Greensall (96 TVR): "We had a slight vibration at the front, and the transponder wasn't working, but Lawrence (Tomlinson) is out there now, and lapping well."

The Morgan had a wheel bearing failure after two laps.

The Dallara briefly had no information on the dash read-out, but Martin Short was pleasantly surprised with a 3:46, which he thought was going to be quite a bit slower than that.

Do we believe this time? Ollie Gavin, having predicted a high 3:48, has set a 3:46.001 in the 64 Corvette.

It appears to have been a glitch, the time is corrected to a 3:55, still super quck but not supernaturally quick, as the timing had suggested. He improves again with a 3:54 just as the session ends.

Barbosa is now in the Rollcentre Dallara and sets an almost immediate 3:44 and then a 3:41 to drag the Dallara up to seventh, just as Brabham sets the Zytek's best mark to edge out the Dallara's time: ahead of both of these is Ayari in the 18 Pescarolo with a 3:40.4, but now the Audi big guns are turning up the wick...

Kristensen sets a 3:37 to go fastest so far with McNish finding a 3:38.2 to go second. As the flag flies for the end of the session though, Johnny Herbert destroys the previous best with a 3:34.907: timing is everything it seems. It's still remarkably warm out there.

Kristensen: "We are focusing on a race car that will suit all three of us: if we can go this well on race tyres then it is looking good for later when we put some qualifiers on."

Biagi: "This is just a fantastic experience, we are working especially on the reliability rather than outright speed but I am happy with everything about the situation - we are young but we are working hard."

Dyson: "I’m very encouraged by the car’s progress since the test day. RfH and Dunlop have really done their homework - on race pace we should be up there with anyone. The objective was to go out there and put a good time on the board to make everyone chase. Lammers is great at doing that and that’s what he did."

One of the Prodrive Ferraris has apparently had a close, intimate moment with the barrier after the Dunlop Chicane. It was the 66 car, with minor left side scraping - and there's now a slick of something unpleasanr behind the armco there, because that is where Robin Thompson was standing!

Hindery: "There's nothing in the world like turning it on and going out there in the first night practice at Le Mans. The car is running superbly, just loose as a goose in the rear end, which we'll fix pretty quickly. The weather is perfect, there are fans everywhere -- which is surprising for Wednesday night but a real compliment to Le Mans -- and it's just nice to be back."

It is indeed. The Belmondo Courage hasn't set a time, suffering an injection problem (?). The question was, 'I'm trying to discover the problem with the car'. "So are we!"

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One of the UK Audis launched itself over the kerbs at the first chicane on Mulsanne (above), while Emanuele Pirro was spotted locking up big time at Arnage. Ah, it was Pierre Kaffer, who took off, nose-dived into the gravel, and returned with damage to the pits. It can't have been too serious though, because the car was lapping quickly again soon after. Both UK R8s had bodywork come loose, but as the hour long interval slips past, both cars are lined up at the head of the pit lane... ready to go for pole?

Clint Field: "Our biggest problem has been the engine, although we lost the rear deck too, with Bill Binnie in the car. The engine is fine, it's the throttle position sensor."

This is father Jon, in the Intersport LMP1 car.

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The lead Freisinger 911 RSR has been in electrical trouble, and hasn't set a decent time.

Bergmeister (fastest in GT):"We are just working on the set-up to get it a good, basic set-up. In the next hour, the next session, we will put on some qualifiers and try to put a good time there and then go back to finding the setup. The setup is not as good as in pre-test. We have a little more understeer."

 

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