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2011 Le Mans 24 Hours: Sarrazin Sets Pace In Opening Qualifying Session

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Stephane Sarrazin set the pace after the first two hour qualifying session for the Le Mans 24 Hours, hustling the no.8 Peugeot 908 around the Circuit de la Sarthe in 3:27.033.

Sarrazin's lap came with half an hour of the session remaining, lifting him (in the car he shares with Franck Montagny and Nicolas Minassian) above the Audis had had held the best times since the very first laps of the session.

Mike Rockenfeller, starting off the session for last year's winning team was the first man at the top of the timesheet, logging a 3:27.949 with his first flying lap. That time was eclipsed, by a hundredth of a second, by Andre Lotterer in the no.2 car, and with the no.3 car in third the trio of R18s were separated by just three tenths at the top of the times.

That was the high water mark for Audi in the session, and the fortunes of the no.1 car took a turn for the unfortunate at Mulsanne Corner. Romain Dumas rounded the corner to be greeted by the GTE-Am class AMR Middle East car broadside on the exit of the track.

The impact caused damage enough for the both cars to be pushed off the track under a red flag. Initial thoughts of substantial damage to both cars proved largely unfounded, with both cars expected to be repaired for tomorrow's sessions.

Despite the threat of weather effecting the four hours of qualifying time scheduled tomorrow the session was less frantic that those in previous years, teams working though test programs as well as ensuring their drivers all ran the requisite three laps in darkness to qualify themselves for the race.

The most urgent seeming activity was in the GTE-Pro class. The AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia was the early pacesetter as Ferrari, Corvette and BMW swapped the honour of fastest time as they edged under the four minute barrier. After an initial exchange the order settled with the two Schnitzer Motorsport run BMWs sandwiching the Bruni/Vilander/Fisichella Ferrari ahead of the two Corvettes.

Prospeed Competition were the best of the Porsche squads in the class in seventh in class in a slightly disappointing showing for the Stuttgart marque.

Elsewhere, too, the order was relatively settled, Julien Jousse put Henri Pescarolo's name atop the list of petrol runners, though the seven diesels (three works Audis, three works Peugeots and ORECA's 908 HDI FAP) opened up a five second gap over the rest of the field. The two new AMR-One cars from Aston Martin Racing endured a tough session. The no.007 car returned to the pits without its front-left bodywork and the sister no.009 car stopped out on track, before making it back to the pits.

Strakka Racing led LMP2 thanks to Jonny Kane. However, the British team's preparation was hit by a late crash, Nick Leventis crashing heavily on the approach to the Dunlop Chicane bringing out the red flag for a second time to bring the session to an end with 30 second left. Franck Mailleux claimed second in class for Signatech Nissan with Alexandre Premat putting the 'works' ORECA 03 third in class.

GTE-Am was led by Larbre Competition's Porsche entry while Spencer Pumpelly was second best in the Flying Lizard Motorsports entry.

There are a further four hours of qualifying scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday). The best times from over the two days running form the grid for the race.

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