Loic Duval Heads Audi Domination Of First Qualifying Session

Duval continued his fine form at Le Mans, having led the test and practice running (Credit: Audi Motorsport)

After topping the free practice session that begun the running of the 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans Loic Duval was again fastest in the first qualifying session for the weekend’s race.

Like the afternoon’s free practice session the two hour opening qualifying session was cut short by an accident, Pierre Thiriet spinning the eponymous Thiriet by TDS Racing ORECA 03 in the barriers of the Mulsanne Straight early in the second hour of the session.

With barrier repairs necessary organisers made the decision to end the running early, giving Duval and the rest of the #2 team (Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish) the overnight advantage ahead of tomorrow’s two qualifying sessions.

Duval’s time (3:22.349) was set early in the session as was Marc Gene’s lap that left the #3 R18 e-tron quattro second fastest, though two seconds slower than the pace delivered by the young Frenchman. Of the eight LMP1 cars only the defending champions set their best time outside of the first half an hour to complete an Audi 1-2-3 at the top of the times.

As well as the times betraying their disadvantage Toyota Racing’s issues were further displayed as the #8 car stopped out on track for Anthony Davidson, apparently with gearbox problems. Their lack of running – and relative lack of pace beforehand – allowed the #12 Rebellion Racing Lola to split the two TS030 Hybrids in taking fifth place.

The Swiss team hold a clear advantage over Strakka Racing in the battle between the LMP1 privateers, Nick Heidfeld’s lap for fifth six seconds faster than the best offering from their British rivals.

2012 class pole sitter John Martin was fastest in LMP2 in the G-Drive Racing ORECA-Nissan with the pattern of the best laps being set early in the daylight-to-darkness session mirrored through the field.

The impressive Australian was more than a second clear at the top of the 22 car class with European Le Mans Series team Morand Racing with driver Franck Maillieux second fastest in the Morgan-Judd with Olivier Pla third fastest in another Morgan, this one with a Nissan engine and run by OAK Racing. The sister car from the team – based inside the Circuit de la Sarthe – was fifth fastest after leading the free practice times, the teammates sandwiching the second G-Drive backed entry.

The top seven in LMGTE Pro ended the session covered by less than a second with the three Aston Martin Racing cars, two AF Corse and two Porsche AG Team Manthey entries all sharing the bracket opened by Fred Makowiecki’s class lead 3:55.658 in the #99 Vantage he shares with Rob Bell and Bruno Senna.

Missing from that second wide bracket – and by some span – were the four American visitors in the class, the two Corvettes leading the two SRT Motorsports Vipers which lay a similar time behind the Corvettes as the yellow C6s did the WEC regulars.

To complete the Aston Martin Racing sweep of the LMGTE classes in the session Allan Simonsen took the #95 round in 3:58.661 (faster than either the Corvettes or Vipers). Both he and Paolo Ruberti in the Proton Competition Porsche were under the four minute barrier.

Needless to say that following Tracy Krohn’s acrobatic exit from the Dunlop Curves late in free practice that the #57 Ferrari was one of several cars not to complete a lap during the session.

Also missing after free practice accidents were the JMW Motorsport Ferrari from LMGTE Pro and the Caterham Motorsport liveried Greaves Motorsport Zytek, the cause of the first of the day’s three red flags. The troubled start to the festivities continued for the LMP2 Lotus team. The #31 completed the session following the team’s clearance to race after legal wrangles swept the team into uncertainty. However the sister #32 spent the session on the sidelines.

All, as well as the Thiriet by TDS and Toyota Racing teams who found trouble in the night will face a hectic workload to prepare for the first of Thursday’s two qualifying sessions, starting at 6pm UK time.