Without a doubt, the enthusiasts were looking forward to the revival of the test day on the Le Mans circuit as much as the teams. The attendance figure was 24 987 spectators who flocked to the Sarthe circuit to thrill to the sight and sound of the cars that they will see in seven weeks at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
The test day provided a lot of interesting information from a sporting point of view. Tom Kristensen in the no. 3 Audi R18 set the quickest time, and the 8-time Le Mans 24-Hours winner lapped the unique circuit in 3m 27.687s, an average speed of 236,687 km/h, just under 8 seconds slower than last year’s pole (3m 19.711s). Mike Rockenfeller in the no. 1 Audi R18 was second quickest in 3m 27.815s proving that the German engineers have got their sums right. The three R18s monopolized the top of the time sheets for a good part of the session, but in the dying seconds of the afternoon, Stéphane Sarrazin put in a stunning lap in a time of 3m 27.876s to bag third place showing the potential of the new Peugeot 908. The first five cars, three Audis and two Peugeots, were covered by only 0.617 seconds! The highest top speed fell to Franck Montagny with 340,5 km/h.
However, the two major contenders for victory in the coming Le Mnas 24 Hours did not only go for a time, they also did a great deal of work on the setups the aerodynamic configurations and the use of tyres. The three Audis covered 3257 km and the three works Peugeots, 3407 km.
The first of the petrol-engined cars was the no 16 Pescarolo-Judd driven by Emmanuel Collard who got round in 3m 36.583s. The performance of the Aston Martin AMR-ONES was a bit disappointing. The two cars covered a total of just twelve laps! The English manufacturer still has a long way to go as it seems to be faced with chronic engine problems.
In LM P2, the battle raged between three cars with Nissan power, the nos 26 and 48 Orecas and the no. 41 Zytek. Franck Mailleux at the wheel of the no. 26 Signatech Nissan finally came out on top with a lap in 3 42.992s.
The GTE Pro category was again the theatre of a mind-boggling scrap . Quickest was the Hankook-Farnbacher Ferrari F458 Italia driven by Allan Simonsen who got round in 3m 59.966s, the only driver to dip below the 4-minute barrier. The gap to the BMWs and Porsches is tiny. Only the Lotuses which were there to learn, were not on the same pace due to their comparative lack of experience.
Larbre Competition’s two cars dominated in GTE Am with the best time going to the no. 50 Corvette with Tom Milner at the wheel with a lap in 4m 04.222s closely followed by Jean-Philippe Belloc’s Porsche in 4m 05285s.
The Le Mans 24-Hour entrants still have seven weeks to analyze their performances today and prepare for the race on 11th-12th June. 2011. Beforehand, however, the teams entered in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup will do battle on 7th May in the Spa-Francorchamps 1000 kms. This time, though, after the performances in the practice, the verdict will be handed down in the race.
Info: Lemans.org/Acreditated and autorized media press.
Photo : Arnaud CORNILLEAU - ACO/Nikon
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