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Audi buries Peugeot in Spa qualifying
The R18 made a stunning debut with the 3 works cars in the first three places on the grid, pole position going to Timo Bernhard. In GTE Pro, Jaime Melo set the quickest time in his Ferrari. The second round of the ILMC will take place on Saturday 7th May starting at 14h05.
The qualifying session for the Spa 1000 kms was interrupted - with a little over five minutes to go to the checkered flag, the red flag was hung out around the circuit following Mathieu Lahaie’s big shunt. He was involved in a collision with the no. 93 FLM (which was not damaged), and the French driver’s OAK Racing Pescarolo slammed into the guardrail at high speed. He was very shocked and was immediately transported to the hospital in Verviers. “He’s conscious,” explained Sylvie Nicolet, the team’s spokesperson. “He now has to undergo a battery of tests.”

On the track Audi celebrated the competition debut of the firm’s new R18 in the best possible manner and Timo Bernhard set pole in 2m 01.502s in no. 1. “I’m very happy for the whole team,” he said at the press conference. “We had a great little scrap. We knew nothing about the Peugeots. I think the stopping of the session upset their plans.”

The three 908s came out of their pits very late and did not put in any flying laps. No.8 (like the Belicchi-Boullion Lola-Toyota) did not even do a single timed lap. The French cars ended the session in thirteenth, eighteenth and fiftieth places, and they will have their hands full trying to fight their way back up to the front tomorrow. The highest-placed Peugeot is the Oreca-entered 908 HDi FAP in fourth place thanks to Nicolas Lapierre’s time of 2m 05.482s. This car won the Sebring 12 Hours in March, but will it be able to take the fight to the Audis?

In LM P2, Danny Watts finished in front of the teams entered in the ILMC for the whole season, and put the no. 42 Honda on pole in front of three Oreca-Nissans.

In the GTE Pro category, Ferraris dominated and three F458 Italias filled the first three places with pole going to Jaime Melo in one of the cars entered by AF Corse. The Brazilian got round in 2m 20.743s, the quickest time so far this weekend at Spa in GTE since the start of practice yesterday. “We received a few aerodynamic evolutions,” explained Melo, “which improved the car a lot even if it’s been already very quick out of the box.” Behind the Ferraris came the first of the Porsches driven by Lieb-Lietz, while the BMW Prialux and Alsen that won in Florida of was seventh quickest in the category.

In GTE Am, Nicolas Armindo in the no. 67 Porsche set the best time in 2m 23.007s. It was a great performance by the Frenchman who put his car entered by the IMSA Performance Matmut team in front of all those in the ILMC. He and his team-mate, Raymond Narac, are racing in the Le Mans Series this year.

The start of the Spa-Francorchamps 1000 kms will be given tomorrow, Saturday 7th May, at 14h05. The race will finish at 20h05.

Quotes after qualifying

Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich (Head of Audi Motorsport):
"This is a nice reward for the work done over the past few months and a great beginning for our new Audi R18 TDI. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the level of our rivals’ potential because qualifying was stopped early due to an accident. The result provides good motivation to the squad. It’s not that important at a 1000-kilometer race but it’s a nice omen."

Timo Bernhard (Audi R18 TDI #1): "I’m incredibly happy about the result, particularly for the team. We did carry quite a big burden because every new car at Audi has immediately been successful. I think we’ve squeezed out the maximum today. That I had the good fortune of clinching the first pole position in the Audi R18 TDI fills me with pride."

Romain Dumas (Audi R18 TDI #1): "This was a great qualifying result: positions one, two and three for Audi! Naturally, I’m particularly happy that number ‘1’ is on pole. We’ve been showing a good performance throughout the weekend. At a six-hour race the position you start from is not so important. But it’s always better to be in front. The race will be very long. We’ve got to continue to work the way we have so far."

Mike Rockenfeller (Audi R18 TDI #1): "The timing in qualifying was perfect. Timo (Bernhard) nailed it down on the lap and also had that bit of necessary luck with traffic. We’re happy. But of course we all know that this was just qualifying. Tomorrow will be the day that counts. Still, it’s always nice to be on pole. And I believe we’ve got a good car."

Marcel Fässler (Audi R18 TDI #2): "I’m very pleased with the way things have been going the past two days. Actually, an Audi has always been at the top of the list. Coming out of qualifying with one, two, three is fantastic of course. I’m very happy, also for the team. We’ve got a competitive car. The grid positions confirm that. I’m excited about the race tomorrow."

André Lotterer (Audi R18 TDI #2): "A superb result for the entire squad: Audi one, two, three - perfect! We did a fantastic job, the car works very well. Personally, I’d have linked clinching pole myself. Unfortunately I hit traffic on both of my trials in the last turn. That’s why I’m afraid it didn’t work out. But the potential was there, and that’s the most important part about it. Tomorrow is an important day to prepare ourselves for Le Mans - and to hopefully win the race as well."

Benoît Tréluyer (Audi R18 TDI #2): "At the moment things are looking great for us. We’re on the top three grid positions and have a car that’s good to drive. The prospects for the race are good too."

Dindo Capello (Audi R18 TDI #3): "That was an outstanding qualifying session for us. It’s been a while that we’ve had three Audi cars at the very front - that’s a very good feeling. Tom (Kristensen) drove the smallest number of laps before qualifying. That certainly counts when you’re fighting for tenths. We’re all looking forward to the race. We feel comfortable in the car and are able to attack. But the race is long and we know that a lot can happen."

Tom Kristensen (Audi R18 TDI #3): "The practice sessions and qualifying were pretty unusual. Everyone first had to get used to 55 vehicles being on the track. The result was many red flags. Audi 1-2-3 is a wonderful result for everyone who is part of the team and for all Audi fans around the world. This morning I had only two timed laps. Qualifying went well nonetheless until I hit traffic in the last chicane after Blanchimont. That’s why I wasn’t able to improve any more. Then the red flag came. But we’ve got a car in which we’re looking forward to contesting a 6-hour race - I think I’m just as hot about driving the R18 TDI in a race for the first time as Allan (McNish), Dindo (Capello) and the other drivers."

Allan McNish (Audi R18 TDI #3): "1-2-3 on the grid is an excellent result and a first reward for all the hard work Audi has been putting into this project over the past few months - during all the tests but also this weekend. Of course the red flag mixed up the grid a bit. But these things can happen if you don’t go out on track early. The engineers have done a pretty good job with the set-up. We’ve got a well-balanced car now. And we’re going into the first race of the Audi R18 TDI with a 1-2-3 on the grid - I don’t think there’s a better place to start."

Ralf Jüttner (Technical Director Audi Sport Team Joest): "We still don’t know how the relative strengths of the field actually pan out. We’ve seen yet again that our strategy of always going out early is right. All three cars did good laps. It’s a great sight having all three cars in front: A superb team result and a good start for the Audi R18 TDI. I’d like to really thank the squad: The past few weeks have been rough. The result today is a small reward. I’m hoping for things to continue like this tomorrow."

Qualifying results

1 Bernhard/Dumas/Rockenfeller (Audi R18 TDI) 2m 01.502s
2 Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer (Audi R18 TDI) 2m 01.788s
3 Capello/Kristensen/McNish (Audi R18 TDI) 2m 02.145s
4 Lapierre/Duval/Panis (Peugeot) 2m 05.482s
5 Jani/Prost (Lola-Toyota) 2m 06.767s
6 Amaral/Pla (Zytek) 2m 07.290s
7 Collard/Tinseau/Jousse (Pescarolo-Judd) 2m 07.528s
8 Lahaye/Moreau/Ragues (Oak Pescarolo-Judd) 2m 07.729s
9 Cortes/Geri/Piccini (Zytek) 2m 08.821s
10 Leventis/Watts/Kane (HPD) 2m 10.016s

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