Audi secured a surprising qualifying result for the 1000km of Silverstone as the pair of R15 TDI took first and second in qualifying for the race ahead of great diesel rivals Peugeot.
The two cars – entered by Audi Sport Team Joest – had returned to the top of the timesheets in the final practice session when the lead car, driven by Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen, was well over a second clear of their nearest challengers in the Team ORECA Peugeot.
Still, it was expected that the two Peugeots – the ORECA run example and the works entry – would romp to pole with the same speed dominance they have shown throughout the season, including earlier in the weekend when the French coupes were first and second in the second practice session.
However, both McNish and Timo Bernhard (in the car he will share with Dindo Capello) went out early in the 20-minute qualifying session and set their fastest times early on, McNish's 1:43.475 becoming the fastest lap of the weekend eclipsing the pace Peugeot driver Nicolas Minassian showed on Friday. With Bernhard becoming a safety buffer for Audi – his time 1:44.012 – the team from Ingolstadt watched those running later laps fail to come close to taking a place on the front row. The nearest Peugeot came, with the Minassian/Anthony Davidson works car, was a second slower than McNish's lap, which averaged nearly 205kmph around the 5.89km track.
It will be Audi's first pole in sportscar racing for over two years, and so their first with the R15. “It has been a while since we had our last pole position,” admitted McNish whose personal wait for pole began after Sebring in 2008. “But we know that that isn't quite so important in an endurance race. It's much more important that the car has been very good in all the conditions we've had here so far. We're able to drive very consistent lap times and the performance is right.”
Peugeot's pace, however, remained a threat the two cars recording the fastest top speeds, Nicolas Lapierre peaking at 286kmph for ORECA en route to fourth on the grid, Bernhard the fastest Audi at 283kmph.
Behind the front two – diesel only – rows of the grid Rebellion Racing kept up their record of being the best petrol fuelled car. The time Andrea Belicchi set in the no.13 Lola, over second down on the slowest diesel car, served only to emphasise that work still needs to be done to bring the divergent engines towards parity. The no.009 of Aston Martin Racing qualified sixth with Drayson Racing seventh.
Minus Nigel Mansell – who was forced to step down from driving duties on doctor's orders – his sons Greg and Leo will start the race eleventh in the Beechdean Mansell Ginetta, one place behind the LMP2 pole sitter Danny Watts. Watts of Strakka Racing, though unable to repeat his overall pole on the previous round easily took the class pole, 2.5 seconds faster than the Quifel-ASM car of Olivier Pla and Miguel Amaral. The RML Lola, which leads the class championship will start fourth in class, over four seconds slower than the rapid Watts.
29th overall, one place behind the lone LMGT1 car, Rob Bell scored the season's first podium for JMW Motorsport, frustrating the Ferrari and Porsche squads battling for the Le Mans Series championship and honours in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup.
Bell was less than two-tenths fastest than Toni Vilander, the Finn taking qualifying duties ahead of his former F1 driver teammates Jean Alesi and Giancarlo Fisichella. The champions elect – Richard Lietz and Marc Lieb – will start from third in class for Team Felbermayr-Proton, Lieb just faster than Jaime Melo who put the second AF Corse Ferrari fourth in class.
Amongst the Formula Le Mans cars Hope Polevision Racing echoed Audi's feat by taking both first and second in class (23rd and 24th overall) Charlie Hollings putting the no.48 car ahead of the no.47 car, Steve Zacchia less than a tenth slower.
The race starts at 11:55am BST with live commentary available on line from Radio Le Mans and live timing from the Le Mans Series website.