One of the toughest and most prestigious endurance races in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has officially begun, with the third and final qualifying session running last night. Peugeot and their diesel-powered 908′s put on a dominating performance, claiming the top four spots on the grid and leading the way amongst the LMP1 group that was once owned by Audi.
Frenchman and former Indy Car champ Sebastien Bourdais led the way for Peugeot, claiming pole position for the French manufacturer and no doubt delighting the home town crowd in the process. Local fans were probably just as pleased to see Frenchman and former F1 driver Olivier Panis’ independent ORECA Team Peugeot Matmut qualify 4th just behind the three factory Peugeots.
Audi, who’ve owned Le Mans with their LMP1 machines over the last decade, claimed the next three spots on the starting grid with their trio of R15 entries, giving diesel-powered cars the top seven spots. Audi’s Allan McNish made a late charge during the final qualifying session to close the Audi-Peugeot gap to 2.5-seconds a lap, but over a 24 hour period Audi has to hope for superior fuel and tire economy if they’re to have any chance at defeating the quicker Peugeots.
Get the rest of the qualifying results after the jump:
In LMP2 the #42 Strakka Racing HPD ARX.01 driven by Nick Leventis, Danny Watts and Jonny Kane and the #26 Highcroft Racing LMP2 HPD ARX.01 driven by David Brabham, Marino Franchitti and Marco Werner made a sandwich of the LMP1 tail enders #12 Rebellion in the ‘mildly moist’ conditions in the final qualifying session. The executives back at Honda must be pleased with their strong position in LMP2.
The hottest battle for grid position was in GT1 and GT2, with #52 Young Driver Aston Martin DBR9 driven by Christoffer Nygaard, Tomas Enge and Peter Kox at the top of GT1, just 3/10ths of a second quicker than 2nd in class Marc VDS Racing’s Ford GT and a half second quicker than 3rd place Matech Performance’s Ford GT. The Luc Alphand Adventures Chevrolet Corvette C6.R qualified 4th in GT1, just 3/10ths behind the Matech Ford.
In GT2 it was the #82 Risi Competizione Ferrari F430 GT driven by Jaime Melo, Gianmaria Bruni and Pierre Kaffer that claimed top spot in the class, just a few tenths quicker than a pair of factory Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1 GT2 machines.
Although the LMP1 and 2 classes appear to have strong front runners, the battle for supremacy in the GT classes will no doubt go down to the wire, with reliability and pit stop strategy likely playing a big part of any winning effort.