#1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro, 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans (Photo Credit: MacLean Photographic)

#1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro, 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans (Photo Credit: MacLean Photographic)

Andre Lotterer's latest of late laps gave the defending 24 Hours of Le Mans winners provisional pole after the first of three two-hour qualifying sessions for the 80th edition of the famed endurance race.

In the #1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro Lotterer passed underneath the checkered flag to complete a lap of the 13.6 mile Circuit de la Sarthe in 3:25.453, more than a second faster than the lap that Tom Kristensen had set in the #1 car that held provisional pole for much of the session.

Lotterer's lap came despite several run ins with slower GT cars that could have cost the Audi pilot. He came upon two cars through Mulsanne Corner, before being momentarily caught behind the GTEAm Porsche of IMSA Performance Matmut accelerating out of Arnage. However, the lap still gave him provisional pole in the car he shares with Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler.

Another Audi driver – Mike Rockenfeller – was another driver to improve late in the session, lifting the #4 R18 Ultra into fifth place ahead of the second of the Toyota TS030 Hybrids. Following on from their performance at the test day both Toyotas matched the Audis for single lap pace, though late improvements by Rockenfeller and Loic Duval in the #3 demoted the #8 car down to sixth overall the first session after the team had to change the engine following a break down in the earlier free practice session.

Nicolas Lapierre set the fastest time in the #7 Toyota, which sat second only to McNish's time for much of the session before Duval slid between the rivals and Lotterer shot to the top of the times.

While the exchange of times at the very top continued up to and beyond the checkered flag elsewhere the session had a more settled feel.

Behind the works powerhouses Strakka Racing claimed the 'best of the rest' spot in seventh overall, Danny Watts setting the best time for the HPD team (3:32.750) to head both Rebellion Racing Lolas – favourites to be the closest privateer team to the Audi and Toyota hoard.

LMP2 was headed by Mathias Beche for European Le Mans Series opener victors Thiriet By TDS Racing. Thirteen of the 20 LMP2 came within three seconds of Beche's time (3:29.252) including Sebring winners Starworks Motorsport (third in class), Jota (sixth) and the Greaves Motorsport Zytek of Alex and Martin Brundle, the younger Brundle setting the time in car that is also driven by Lucas Ordonez.

Oliver Gavin gave Corvette Racing provisional pole in LMGTE Pro with a lap of 3:55.910, just 0.166 seconds faster than Fred Makowiecki in the Luxury Racing entry, the best of the Ferrari 458 Italia.

Contrarily the fastest Porsche of the session was the LMGTE Am car of Flying Lizard Motorsports, French driver Patrick Pilet besting the efforts of the Team FelbermayrProton entry and the sister Flying Lizard car in the Pro category.

The session was mercifully free of major incidents, though several cars had spins during the session. Both the #51 AF Corse Ferrari and the Pescarolo 03 missed the session after hefty offs in free practice session. The Nissan Deltawing showed good speed, the best lap of Michael Krumm (3:42.612) slotting in amongst the LMP2 cars. However, the car's fire extinguisher went off accidentally, triggering the master cut-off, ending their session after just three laps.

The schedule at Le Mans continues with four more hours of qualifying on Thursday evening.