With the penultimate qualifying session starting in damp but drying conditions it was clear that most teams would be using this session to test race setup and handling rather than go for all out pace. Although a dry line was appearing around circuit conditions were tricky and few cars were trying to beat yesterdays times.
Audi and particularly Allan McNish were agressive early on on the session, closing the gap between them and the leading Peugeots, but other than showing they have good downforce in the wet they never really threatened the dominance of the Peugeots at the top of LMP1. It remains to be seen whether Audi are playing the long-race game, or whether they will be hanging on to Peugeot’s coat tails all weekend.
Elsewhere it was sad to see the early retirement of the No. 96 Ferrari of AF Corse who didn’t return to the 2nd qualifying session. It is always unfortunate when a lot of hard work comes to nothing. The team will now concentrate efforts on their other car, as the field returns to the familiar 55 cars again.
With little changing in the LMP1 field with the resumption of the third and final qualifying session it was in the LMGT2 class where the battle for pole was hotting up. As many cars called it a night before the midnight deadline, traffic on the ever drying circuit decreased and so did the lap times. A big push from the Corvettes saw less than a second between the first 4 cars and times kept changing right up to the end of the session.
In LMP2 the battle for pole was really down to 2 cars; Highcroft & Strakka. At the end of the session the Strakka Racing team took the honours with a qualifying time of 3.33.079, which proved to be quicker than some of the strugglers and new cars in LMP1 who had settled for the times from Wednesday.
In LMGT1 the Aston Martin DBR9 of Young Drivers successfully qualified fastest ahead of the Ford GTs and the Corvettes of Luc Alphand, with a time of 3.55.025. The Matech Ford GT in third position qualified in 3.55.583 showing just how close the first 3 cars were around the Le Mans Circuit.
And so at the end of the evening a story was unfolding in the LMGT2 class. The timesheets recorded the Risi Competizione Ferrari ahead of the other cars in the class with a time of 3.59.233, but they were closely followed by the 2 Corevette Racing cars and the surviving Ferrari of AF Corse. All cars were sub 4 minutes, with only hundreths of a second separating them all. However after midnight the ACO scrutineers in the pit lane reported a problem with the Risi Ferrari, provisionally demoting them to the back of the grid. However, it remains to be seen where it will start come Saturday afternoon.
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Photos courtesy of our friends Neil Chapman & Pete Devine.