The first qualifying practice session of the 2013 Le Mans 24-Hour was last night dominated by the three Audi R18 e-tron Quattros of Audi Sport Team Joest. Topping the LMP1 timing chart, the No.2 car driven by Loïc Duval, Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish set a scorching lap time of 3:22.349 shortly after qualifying started at 22h00.
Hot on their heels was the the No.3 car piloted by Marc Gené, Lucas di Grassi and Oliver Jarvis. With Gené behind the wheel it finished the night with a very respectable 3:24.341. Trailing them in third place with a time of 3:25.474 was the No.1 car of last year’s winners – and current World Endurance Champions – Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer.
While Audi had good reason to smile smugly from the pit lane wall, the Toyota camp didn’t. Although the No.7 TS030 Hybrid of Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima did well to finish the night in fourth position with a time of 3:26.676, the No.8 machine being driven by Anthony Davidson, Stéphane Sarrazin and Sébastien Buemi looked off the pace in sixth place with a time of 3:30.841. Unable to go quicker than the No.12 Rebellion Racing Lola, this car also developed a suspected gearbox issue that saw it sidelined for the rest of the night.
The fiercely contested GTE Pro class was dominated by the No.99 Aston Martin Racing Vantage V8 being commandeered by Rob Bell, Bruno Senna and Fred Makowiecki. Senna was on fine form, making the most of the cool evening conditions to clock a 3:55.658. Snapping on his rear wing was the scarlet No.51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia (Gianmaria Bruni, Giancarlo Fisichella and Matteo Malucelli) that crossed the line with a best time of 3:55.909.
The two remaining Aston Martin factory cars clinched third and fourth, while the No.92 Porsche AG Team Manthey 911 RSR secured fifth overall after turning a 3:56.457. It sure was a disappointing qualifying session for Corvette Racing fans, with the No.73 (3:59.526) and No.74 (3:59.860) cars having to make do with eighth and ninth respectively. Their fellow-American rivals in the newbie SRT Motorsports pit had an equally torrid time of things after neither of their V10-powered Dodge Viper GTS-Rs could manage to break the four-minute barrier.
Though both these teams could have improved their overall standings, their chances were scarpered after the session was red-flagged around the halfway point when the No.46 Thiriet by TDS Oreca-Nissan crashed and damaged the safety barriers at second Mulsanne chicane. It was not to be restarted.