The brand new Audi R18 e-tron quattro made its competitive debut in practice ahead of this weekend's Six Hours of Spa–Francorchamps as the hybrid machine topped the timesheets in both of Thursday's free practice sessions.
In both sessions it was the no.1 entry of reigning 24 Hours of Le Mans winners Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fassler and Andre Lotterer who set the fastest time, though it was different driver Treyuler lapping the fearsome seven-kilometre Spa track in 2:04.434 in the first session, Lotterer over a second faster (2:03.075) in the second session as speeds picked up for most of the 42 car field assembled for the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).
The e-tron quattro is making its debut alongside the latest spec conventional diesel engine R18 – the R18 Ultra – and the two Ultras matched the pair of hybrids in both sessions as the quartet of Audis set fastest times less within a second of each other in both sessions.
Romain Dumas set the second fastest time in the no.3 Audi Sport Team Joest Ultra in the first session, Allan McNish making it a 1-2 for the hybrids in the second session in the e-tron quattro he shares with Tom Kristensen and Dindo Capello.
Predictably the Audis were in a class of their own, especially with the absence of the Toyota squad from the paddock, but the Japanese manufacturer – all be it as an engine supplier still came closest to the Audis. Rebellion Racing – also debuting a new look car in the latest Lola Coupe – to lead the best of the rest each time. Andrea Belicchi put the no.13 Toyota powered car fifth in the first session, former F1 driver Nick Heidfeld fifth in the second session in the sister no.12 car.
Oak Racing's Olivier Pla set the pace in an intriguingly close LMP2 class, with the top six of the packed 18 car class split by less than a second in the second session, Pla's Morgan-Judd heading Lotus, Signatech Nissan, ADR–Delta, morning pace setters Pecom Racing and Starworks Motorsport entries in the session.
Porsche factory driver Marc Lieb set the best time of the day in GTEPro for Team Felbermayr–Proton, the only man to dip beneath the 2:20 barrier in the GTE classes. Gianmaria Brumi led the earlier session for AF Corse, but he, with co-driver Giancarlo Fisichella and teammates Olivier Beretta and Andrea Bertolini were unable to match the Porsche man in the afternoon.
It was also a successful day for Porsche in the GTEAm ranks, Felbermayr-Proton's no.88 lead in the class in morning before the French IMSA Performance Matmut team and Nicolas Armindo set the class' fastest lap of the day in the afternoon, more than a second faster in the second session than the better of the two Larbre Competition Corvettes, which was second fastest in the second session.