As so often in previous years, the final 20 minutes of the third and final qualifying session for the 24 Heures du Mans proved to be the most exciting and lap times began to tumble.
However, Loîc Duval’s blistering time of 3:22.349 – set 12 minutes into yesterday’s first qualifying – was unsurpassed. The No.2 Audi Sport Team Joest R18 e-tron quattro of Duval-Tom Kristensen-Allan McNish will therefore start the 2013 edition of the 24 Heures du Mans from pole position.
Behind the pole winner will be current FIA World Endurance Champions Treluyer-Lotterer-Fassler in the No.1 Audi R18 who put up a strong challenge in full darkness. Their time of 3:23.696 was an improvement on yesterday but not enough to knock their team mates off top spot. Behind the No.3 Audi is the first of the Toyota Racing TS030 Hybrids, the No. 8 of Buemi-Davidson-Sarrazin improving in time but still over four seconds from Duval.
Rebellion Racing’s No.12 Lola Toyota also improved tonight, its time of 3:28.935 putting it ahead of its No.13 sister car by some margin. The No.21 Strakka Racing HPD ARX03 was unable to run to the finish as it had earlier gone off at the second Hunaudières chicane – the cause of the second of two red flags in this two hour 30 minute session.
It will be the No.24 OAK Racing Morgan Nissan of Olivier Pla-Alex Brundle-David Heinemeier Hansson which will lead off the 22-strong LMP2 category, Frenchman Pla leap-frogging the No.26 G-Drive Racing ORECA 03 Nissan in the final minutes of the session. Pla’s time of 3:38.621 put him ahead of Martin’s time of 3:39.535 which stood since yesterday. ELMS entrant Jota Sport’s Zytek Nissan also made an improvement to take third in class.
In the LMGTE classes the Pro and Am pole positions were filled by Aston Martin with the No.99 AMR Vantage of Frederic Makowiecki taking the top spot in the LMGTE Pro class with an improvement of one second on last night’s best time. The French driver’s time of 3:54.635 was 0.8 seconds ahead of his teammate and nearest rival Stefan Mücke, meaning the front row of the LMGTE Pro grid will be an all Aston Martin affair at 3pm on Saturday afternoon.
Row two of the grid will be headed by the nr91 Team Manthey Porsche 911 RSR of Marc Lieb with an improved time of 3:55.491, just missing out on a front row position by 0.046s. The No.51 AF Corse Ferrari failed to improve on last night’s best time of 3m55.909s and dropped from 2nd to 4th and will join the Porsche on the second row.
In the LMGTE Am class it was the No.95 AMR Aston Martin Vantage V8 of Allan Simonsen which posted the fastest class time of 3:57.776, a 0.9 second improvement on his earlier provisional pole position time. It will be a Porsche joining the Aston Martin on the front row with the No.88 Proton Competition Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Paolo Ruberti recording an improved lap of 3:58.889, nearly one second ahead of the third placed car, the No.96 Aston Martin Vantage of Jamie Campbell-Walter. The top Ferrari in the class was placed 4th with Marco Cioci in the No.61 AF Corse Ferrari.
Friday is the traditional rest day but the public still have an opportunity to see the teams and drivers with the drivers parade in the centre of Le Mans at 17:00. The track action resumes on Saturday with morning warm up at 9:00 and then the start of the 90th anniversary 24 Heures du Mans at 15:00.