TEAMS COLLECT VALUABLE INFORMATION DURING THE LE MANS TEST DAY
At the Le Mans Test Day, the 56 cars invited to participate in the 80th edition of Les 24 Heures du Mans were able to make their final preparations for the actual race in two weeks time. Although, the timing was not official, at the end of the eight-hour test session it was Audi and Toyota LM P1 cars heading the classification. It was extremely close with the fastest cars separated by no more than a second. The same was true of the LM P2 and GTE classes, where again there were small margins between the leading cars. While all drivers had to run an obligatory ten laps to qualify, the main body of attention was on the large number of competitors experiencing the Circuit de la Sarthe for the first time.
As expected, the fastest lap times were set by the powerful LM P1 cars. After the four-hour morning session the top five cars were within one second of each other with the Audi of Loïc Duval just out in front. Rolex Ambassador Tom Kristensen was second fastest in the Audi Hybrid: “The car with its four wheel drive did wonderfully. In the morning we had some rain and that’s when you love Quattro technology.” The team from Toyota was surprisingly fast despite no previous experience at Le Mans. Former Formula 1 driver Sébastien Buemi from Switzerland adapted quickly, and came up only half a second short of the fastest lap on his first visit to the historic track. In the second session it was Audi’s Allan McNish who set the fastest time of the day, beating teammate Marcel Faessler by over a second. Alexander Würz was the best Toyota driver setting the fourth fastest time. Elsewhere in LM P1 group, the Strakka Racing Honda set a satisfyingly fast time in the morning, while the Lola-Toyota did well in the afternoon. Peter Dumbreck, one of the drivers of the debuting JRM team was just happy to have qualified: “This is all new to our team, but together with Brabham and Chandhok we made it without too many problems.”
In the LM P2 class there was a close battle too. Both in the morning and afternoon sessions, Nissan powered cars topped the timing charts, but were less than a second faster than the Honda powered prototypes. Although an overall winner here in the past, Martin Brundle could not deliver the speed he would have hoped for today. The 1988 Rolex 24 At Daytona and 1990 Les 24 Heures du Mans winner is partnered by his son Alex along with Spanish sports car veteran Lucas Ordonez, and, it was the younger Brundle, making his debut, who shone the brightest. Two Dutch drivers also making their first appearance at Le Mans had contrasting experiences. Yelmer Buurman in the Status Grand Prix Lola was among the faster cars, while Reiner van der Zande’s run was hampered by small electrical problems throughout the test; problems that kept the second Lola-Lotus in the pits for most of the day. Running in its own experimental class, the futuristic designed Nissan Delta Wing ran without major problems and set times comparable to the LM P2 cars.
In the morning the Ferraris once more showed their speed in the GTE Pro class as Frédéric Makowiecki stayed just ahead of former Formula 1 legend Giancarlo Fisichella. However, in the afternoon it was one of the yellow Corvettes driven by American Tommy Milner that led the classification. Another rookie to suffer a set-back today was Milner’s compatriot and fellow-Corvette driver, Jordan Taylor, who had the misfortune to crash his car late on: “I came in directly from Detroit where I won the GT class in the Detroit Rolex GRAND-AM Series race. I made my ten laps to qualify without problems, but lost it on the 12th lap.”
In the GTE Am class the Aston Martin with an all-Danish line were top of the time sheet closely followed by the Larbre Competition Corvette and the Flying Lizard Porsche. American Ferrari driver Brian Vickers enjoyed his first laps on the track, even though it was raining during part of his time behind the wheel: “In the beginning I had to find the right line and paid a lot of attention to the faster cars. After a couple of laps, I got the right feeling and lap times dropped significantly.” Later in the day, disaster almost struck as his partner Rui Aguas spun the Ferrari and damaged its bodywork.
All 56 qualified teams will now stay in Le Mans with initial scrutineering starting this coming Saturday. Practice for the 80th edition of this classic event begins on Wednesday, 13 June. Just three days later, on Saturday, 16 June the competing grid will get the green flag when the Rolex official timing clock shows three o’clock in the afternoon.