It& s Electric! Audi Etron On Pole At Le Mans Speedhunters

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Audi e-tron

It s Electric! Audi E-tron On Pole At Le Mans

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We’re already 10 hours of running down, and that’s just through practice and qualifying here at the Circuit De La Sarthe in France. With three drivers itching to get out and a lap taking three and a half to four minutes, a single flying lap costs a minimum of 12 minutes – so what seems like a lot of time gets eaten up very rapidly.

But the six hours of track time on Wednesday and a further four on Thursday have given us a better picture of how the teams are performing, and the answer is that pretty much everyone is performing. The field is very tightly packed, more so than it’s been for years. We have a storming race in prospect.

This is no bluster: yes, the Audis and Toyotas are still faster right at the front, but after the times from the three qualifying sessions were aggregated all of the serious LMP1 and  LMP2 runners behind them are covered by just 12 seconds. That’s seventh to 29th position: 22 cars, including the Deltawing. It’s unprecedented.

It also shows that, factory cars aside, the rules seem to be working: all the privateer LMP1s are within eight seconds of each other, followed by the top 14 LMP2s within four seconds.

3:30s has always been bandied about as the lap-time that the ACO want LMP1 cars to achieve. Well, once again that’s been smashed by Audi and Toyota – but also by two of the petrol-powered privateers. Both the Strakka HPD ARX-03a and #12 Rebellion B12/60 Lola-Toyota have dipped in under that magic time, which should give something for the factories to think about.

They’ll be no cruising up front, otherwise these two – plus the remaining LMP1 hordes – will be ready to pick off any stragglers.

In GTE it’s a similar story. Luxury Racing have retained their form and taken pole with a startlingly quick time that’s well within the four-minute mark.

It’s the new Aston Martin Vantage V8 that’s taken second, followed by the #74 Corvette, #71 AF Corse Ferrari and #73 Corvette.

Right behind is a quartet of Porsches, headed by the Pro-Am class Flying Lizard car 911. All of the GTE cars are covered by just eight seconds.

The quartet of R18s whistle past at unearthly speeds, eating up braking zones and traffic alike. It’s actually difficult to comprehend how fast they are, perhaps fuelled by that absence of noise. They teleport to the end of straights; corners barely register; they warp through traffic.

They’re going to be very  difficult to beat.

The Toyotas are almost as fast, but their petrol units make them seem more grounded than the alien Audis.

But as hoped for, the Toyota team have been right up there with the R18s, and even if they haven’t been able to make a bid for pole they have split the Audis on the grid: they line up third and fifth, bringing colour to the first three rows of the rolling start against the black and white bludgeon of Audi.

It’s been a tough introduction to Le Mans for the JRM team: their HPD-03a has been up on jacks far more often than the team want. The latest problem has been with kerbs damaging the gearbox – the team missed the evening Qualifying 2 session, putting in just a shakedown lap right at the end ahead of the final night Qualifying 3 period.

Audi e-tron

But a solid time has been posted, and the positive is that they know from the Strakka car that there’s a whole boat-load of time to find. Don’t forget that we’ll be carrying the live feed from the JRM team throughout the weekend: we’ll be posting up details on that tomorrow before the race.

But when the HPD isn’t in one piece at least it’s the team’s choice: even in these early sessions there’s the combination of drivers pushing hard and constant traffic. The former can lead to self-induced offs, the latter to heart-stopping last-minute braking being the only thing between you and a wall.

Already we’ve had multiple casualties: Giancarlo Fischicella wiped out the #51 AF Corse, requiring AF Corse to send up a completely new car from their base; both Pescarolo LMP1s have sustained front-end damage, as did the #29 Gulf Racing Lola Coupé and #75 Prospeed Porsche, meaning all these teams lost large chunks of valuable running time.

After the frenzy of the last couple of days, today is a quiet day in tracks terms at least. The pit-lane will be swarming as it’s open all day to the public, the drivers will be preparing for the parade in Le Mans town tonight, and the mechanics will be busy with final preparations for the race, the aim being to get away from the track and rested as early as possible.

It’s all about 3pm tomorrow.

Le Mans 24 Hours 2012


Combined Qualifying Times

1: LMP1 #1 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 e-tron Quattro (Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer) 3:23.787s

2: LMP1 #3 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 ultra (Dumas/Duval/Gené) 3:24.078s

Audi e-tron
Audi e-tron
Audi e-tron

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