An Audi will start the Le Mans 24 Hours from pole position, incredibly, for the first time since 2006 after Frenchman Benoit Treluyer lapped the eight miles of the Circuit de la Sarthe in 3:25.738. Their last pole came in the debut year of the R10 TDI, the first year an Audi diesel won the race.
Treluyer's lap in the no.2 Audi R18 he shares with Marcel Fassler and Andre Lotterer came with half an hour remaining of the final two qualifying session remaining. Fassler had put the car quickest in the earlier daylight session, but during a manic period in the darkness and a flurry or improvements by both Audi and the rivals Peugeot the pole lap was set at 11:30pm local time.
“I was born so close to here and the 24 Hours is such a challenge and I was not even thinking about the pole position and then I did and it is just fantastic,” said a jubilant Treluyer. “I'm so happy about the car, about the job by the mechanics, engineers and it's just such a nice present to them for all the work they have done up to now. We will just try and make it to the end now. The best spot on the grid is not that important it's always better to get it of course but honestly what I would like to do is to be on the top of the podium at the end of the race.”
Though others tried to beat the time, the best of the Peugeot's could only manage third, behind the no.1 car which Romain Dumas had qualified just 0.061 off pole despite the car missing most of Wednesday's qualifying session after a crash at Mulsanne Corner.
Tom Kristensen logged the fastest lap for the no.3 car but the Dane ended the session in the gravel trap at Tetre Rouge after a spin in the final seconds before midnight. Though the contact with barriers caused – Audi admit – “extensive” damage the car will be repaired to take the start of the 79th Le Mans 24 Hours.
“The front of the field is incredibly close together at these 24 Hours of Le Mans,” said Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, head of Audi Motorsport. “That doesn't surprise me though but makes me all the happier that we've managed putting two of our Audi R18 TDI cars on the front row. That's the nicest way to say thank you to the squad for their work and commitment during the past few months and also this week. Of course we know that the pole position at Le Mans means nothing yet. But our cars have been very quick on the long-runs as well. I believe that we've got a very good base for the race.”
All three R18s ran with the same engines they will use during the race, with the sessions concentrating on preparing for the race, rather than aiming for pole. Analysis showed the German car were significantly, and consistently slower than the Peugeots in a straight line, and with all six works diesel at the head of the field split by little more than half a second the race is looking set to be a memorable one.
The race starts at 2pm UK time, and The Checkered Flag will be covering the entire race live with live comment and hourly updates.