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Racing into sunrise
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Sun shines on Audi in 1st practice session

LE MANS, France — The sun danced around the Circuit du La Sarthe this afternoon brightening a day that at time was threatened by showers. It shined brightest on the Audi team as it posted the top four times again — it did the same thing at the test day last Sunday.

This time is was the No. 1 Audi of Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer, and Benoit Treluyer that took top time. Lotterer did the honors on lap 14 of his 15 laps young the course in 3:25.163 in the Audi R18 e-tron. The second e-tron car had the number two time with Tom Kristensen doing the honors with a lap that was 1331 second slower. The two e-tron cars were followed closely by the two Audi R18 Ultras to sweep qualifying. The No 3 Audi was their and the No 4 was fourth.

However, the Toyota team was not that far off the pace in fifth and sixth place with the best time of the two entries  from Toyota 3.258 seconds off the pace. However, it was Toyota that showed its pedigree in turning the fastest speed in the first session of 332.1 kph. That was three kph faster than Audi’s best effort that was turned in by the No. 4 R18 Ultra with Marco Bonanomi dialing up the fast Audi time.

The Batmobile Delta Car, which is entered as an experimental car had a time that is competitive with the LMP2 cars. Top time for the LMP2 cars went to the Starworks Motorsport Honda-powered team driven by Thomas Kimber-Smith with a time 3:39.656. The Delta Wing, with the same power plant toured the course with a best time of 3:43.576.

In the GT classes the Aston Martin Advantage turned turned the tables on the LM GTEPro field with top time. the first session. Darren Turner did the honors for the  Vantage team and pitched a time of 3.57.036. The Ferarri 458 Italia of Luxury  Racing had the second fastest time by a little more that four tenths of a second while the Vette of Corvette Racing turned the third fastest time, another two tenths behind. In LM GTEAm the Vantage again proved itself with a top time that was also faster than several of the GTPro cars. Allan Simonsen turned a 3:57.753 for top honors, a time that was faster than the majority of Pro cars.

Rain, rain go away

LE MANS, Fr — Rain is the focus of most of the talk on a day when not much more was going on at the Circuiit du La Sarthe — the 8.469 mile historic here in France.

The weather has been cloudy with short rainy spurts and equally short sun bursts as teams have worked in the garage area on getting their steeds prepared for the first day of practice on Wednesday. But it would seem that the weather has trumped all other conversations — and it is anyone’s guess as to the weather for race.

Most, however, are expecting at least some rain for this race and the weatherman seems to point to this Le Mans being a wet one. None of the weather guessers seem to be in total agreement as to the weather for the 80th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, this year a part of the Automobile Club O’uest (ACO) / Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) World Endurance Championship (WEC) series. This is seen in team preparation in the pits with teams showing their train tires in readiness during pit walk-throughs.

The short odds for the overall victory lie with the Audi team with four cars here — two of their new R18 diesel e-tron flywheel hybrid vehicles and two of their R18 Diesel TDI cars. They will likely face stiff competition from the Toyota TS030 hybrid which even Audi drivers have admitted has surprised them with its speed.

There are also a passel of other petrol based LMP1 cars who will vie for a podium spot, more hoping for one of the front runners to break than actually being able to run with the two top teams. Interestingly enough, if you had not attended this prestigious event in past years you would not even know that Peugeot fielded a team; it is almost as if a clean team swept the track and removed every vestige of the team that won here once in its five year stay.

In LMP2 there are no less than 20 teams here, all of which think they have a good chance of a podium at the end of 24 hours on Sunday.  The GT class will be its usual dogfight with 20 entries. One team that is notable by its absence is BMW with no cars entered.

It is also notable to see that members of the now defunct Peugeot team have all seemingly found rides for the 80th running of 24 Hours of Le Mans. Marc Gene, a member of the winning Peugeot team in 2009 landed in an Audi seat and proceeded to take his R18 Ultra to first place at the second WEC race of the year at Spa. A second member of that winning Peugeot team, Alexander Wurz landed with the highly touted Toyota hybrid team.

Two other former Peugeot pilots landed on the second Toyota team. Englishman Anthony Davidson and Frenchman Stephan Sarrazin also are driving for the Toyota hybrid team. Davidson, a member of the Peugeot winning team at Sebring in 2010 while Sarrazin brings the experience of three pole positions at Le Mans in 2007, 2008, and 2009,

Sebastian Bourdais, the pole winner in 2010 and a second place finisher at Circuit de La Sarthe in 2007, 2009, and 2011with Peugeot joined the Pescarlo Dome- Judd team to round out the former Peugeot drivers who are competing at the 24 hours race this year.

Audi takes top three times; Toyota close behind for Sunday Test day at 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — The fight is on — as the Audi team knew it would be.

Although the team from Ingolstadt had the three fastest times during the Sunday test session at Circuit de la Sarthe, their main competition, the Toyota TS030 LMP1 hybrid, which is a new entry to the World Endurance Championship, showed that in its first year it will be a formable competitor, turning the fourth and fifth fastest times of the two sessions. The fastest Toyota was about a second and a quarter slower than the fastest Audi, in its first chance to run at the storied track. There is conjecture that the Toyota team was not showing everything that they had on its first session in Le Mans.

Top time of the day went to Audi’s Allan McNish who toured the nearly 8.5 mile long course in 3m 25.927 seconds in the Audi R18 e-tron quattro. Former Peugeot driver Alexander Wurtz had top time for the Toyota team with a 3m 27.204 lap but even McNish was impressed with how fast the Toyotas were out of the box at Le Mans noting, “The Toyotas amazed me. At top speed they were really much quicker than us!”

McNish, while runnning in the second session also was a casualty of the famed Tertre Rouge corner as he slipped onto the grass and spun 360 degrees before impacting into the barricade ending the test session for the team. Fortunately this was after his teammates, Dindo Capellos and Tom Kristensen had had put in their seat time and after McNish has turned the top time of the day.

“Dindo (Capello) already felt very comfortable in the new car and Tom (Kristensen) further improved balance. That meant I took over a car that was set up well for the areas of the track that have new tarmac. As always, grip was low on the dirty track at the beginning of the test day. I drove fast and consistent lap times. Unfortunately, toward the end while entering Tertre Rouge I briefly touched the grass, spun 360 degrees and touched the guard rails,” he said of the shunt.

The No. 21 Honda HPD was the speediest of the LMP1 cars with ‘classic’ petrol engines, with Danny Watts at the wheel. Watts’ time 3m34.243 seconds was well off the times set by the Diesel Hybrids and the Toyota Hybrids.
LMP2 saw Oak Racing dominate both test sessions as Olivier Pla did the honors in the No. 35 Morgan-Judd with a time 3m41.291 seconds. Nissan Delta Wing, albeit non-classified also treated race fans to its first laps at Le Mans. The futuristic car will run in the 24 Hours of Le Mans under the banner of the 56th Pit Box, but will not be classified. The Scotsman Marino Franchitti, who set a time of 3m47.980, was thrilled. “It was a perfect demonstration,” he explained. “No mechanical problems, easy to drive. It was very encouraging for the race and we know in which direction to go in order to gain performance.”
In the GTE Pro category the 458 Ferrari with Frederic Makowieckiat the wheel turned top time of the day — but just by a whisker over the No. 74 Corvette with Olivier Gavin at the wheel. Makowieckiat was .102 of a second faster around the track than the Vette. In the GTE AM category Allan Simonsen driving an Aston Martin Vantage V8 pushed the car around the track in 3:59.938 which was fastest of the day for the GTE AMs and a middle of the pack time for the GTE Pros.

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