ALMS teams fair well at LeMans Wednesday
Allan McNish and Audi came up just short in the first day of qualifying for the 24 Hours of Le Mans but Adrian Fernandez did not as the American Le Mans Series asserted itself Wednesday at the world’s most famous auto race. McNish qualified his Audi R10 TDI second overall on the grid, a half-second behind the leading Peugeot while Fernandez grabbed the provisional LMP2 pole position in his first visit to Le Mans.
McNish’s lap of 3:26.916 held the pole until the Stephane Sarrazin’s final pass bested the Scot by a 0.572 seconds. It was a thrilling final hour with a drying track and cooling temperatures setting the stage for the late heroics. The session also gave a glimpse of the epic battle between the diesels set to start Saturday.
With the forecast for Thursday uncertain, the strategy from Audi was clear: post a strong time with a dry circuit and don’t chance needing a time Thursday to get on the front row. Audi gained nearly a second on Peugeot since the official Test Day on June 3 although a late red flag then may have skewed the gap between the two diesels.
“Judging by the forecast for tomorrow, this could be the grid,” said McNish, a winner at Le Mans in 1998 with Porsche. “Qualifying was difficult because of the red flag stoppages and weather, so it all came down to the last 10 minutes or so when times began to fall after track conditions allowed us to bolt on slicks. I had two reasonable laps but encountered some traffic in the last chicane on my second hot lap which is frustrating having worked hard for over eight miles only to see time slipping away in the last tenth of a mile. However, I don’t believe it cost me over half a second which is how much faster the Peugeot went right at the end.”
The other two Audis sat fourth and fifth on the grid with the top five within 3.392 seconds of each other. Frank Biela, defending race winner with Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner, held pole position for much of the evening after a fast lap of 3:28.301 30 minutes into the first session.
In LMP2, Fernandez set his provisional pole time despite electrical issues that cropped up early. His time of 3:44.158 was nearly 1.7 seconds better than the Quifel ASM Lola-AER, second in class. Fernandez also was fastest at the Test Day as he posted the same time as the other factory Zytek that day.
“It was an interesting day,” Fernandez said. “We had a lot of problems in the morning and we picked them up. I managed to put two or three laps together without any problem and much traffic. Everyone was probably trying to just get things done. It’s so difficult at night. I can see that you need the miles here. It is so hard to get the perception. Everything looks very different and it’s more difficult than I thought. It’s nice. We will see what happens tomorrow with the weather.”
New Hampshire-based Binnie Motorsports was third in class with its Zytek-powered Lola. Next was defending class winner RML, featuring American Le Mans Series regular Andy Wallace.
Corvette Racing saw just how difficult winning its fourth straight championship in GT1 will be as the No. 64 Corvette C6.R of Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Max Papis was third in class behind an Aston Martin DBR9 from Labre Competition and a Saleen from Team ORECA. The yellow Corvette was 0.89 seconds behind the independent Aston Martin. The first of the factory Astons sat fourth in class with the second Corvette in fifth position.
"It's been very challenging tonight and the conditions have been very changeable,” said Gavin, who is going for his fourth straight win at Le Mans with Beretta. “I was trying to find a dry line, and in the dark it’s very difficult here to pick out where it’s damp and where it’s dry.”
American Le Mans Series GT2 championship contenders Risi Competizione and Flying Lizard Motorsports were firmly entrenched among the class leaders Wednesday. Risi’s lead Ferrari of Jaime Melo, Mika Salo and Johnny Mowlem was third, just 1.1 seconds off the lead Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari. The Flying Lizard Porsche was another 0.23 seconds behind.
American Porsche factory driver Patrick Long qualified second in the IMSA Performance Porsche, the leading French entry in GT2, at 4:04.622.
Thursday’s qualifying session at Le Mans will start at 7 p.m. CET (1 p.m. ET).
The 75th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is scheduled for 3 p.m. CET (9 a.m. ET) on Saturday, June 16 from the Circuit de la Sarthe. SPEED will provide 17.5 hours of coverage in North America starting at 8:30 a.m. ET on June 16. MotorsTV will air week-long coverage throughout Europe. Live coverage can be found on Radio Le Mans through americanlemans.com..