The first session of night qualifying for the 24 Hours of Le Mans ended on a high for Audi Motorsport, Andre Lotterer's time the first in a hybrid drive car to head the Le Mans field for the first time in the race's history.
At 3:25.453 the German's lap in the #1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro driven by the reigning champions eclipsed last year's pole time (set by teammate Benoit Treluyer) by 0.285 seconds with four hours qualifying still to come on Thursday evening.
Audi's second diesel-hybrid, the #2 car (Allan McNish/Tom Kristensen/Dindo Capello) was knocked down to second fastest, despite Kristensen's best lap being on course for provisional pole for much of the two hours session.
Earlier in the day – during the free practice session – Lotterer had gone even faster (3:25.163) as the Audi Sport Team Joest run team worked through a program refining the set-up after the test day earlier this month. He was, however, unable to match his time in the qualifying session, having to negotiate several slower GT cars on his best lap – a constant problem for the Audi drivers.
“It was incredibly difficult to find a free lap,” said Mike Rockenfeller, who set the fifth fastest time the #4 Audi R18 Ultra. “Of course that was a shame – but it's a lot more important that our car felt very good in the end and was comfortable to drive. That's what counts at Le Mans.”
Rockenfeller, driving at Le Mans for the first time since the serious accident he suffered while leading the race last year, ended the session in the only Audi beaten by the best of the two Toyota Hybrids. Loic Duval set the best lap in the #3 R18 Ultra, third fastest overall.
All four cars will be completely stripped and reprepared before Thursday's qualifying sessions, starting the four hours of running fitted with the same engines that will have to power them through the race.