Herbert back to the front
Johnny Herbert set the fastest time of the weekend so far during a frantic last ten minutes of the penultimate qualifying session for this weekend's Le Mans 24 Hours. The former winner snatched the top spot with just five minutes of the two-hour session to spare, 30 seconds after Veloqx Audi team-mate Allan McNish had gone fastest in the sister Audi
Herbert, who has never set pole position for Le Mans, and McNish, waited right until the end of the session to set their times as the track surface reached optimum conditions for a flying lap.
"I hope I can keep hold of pole," said Herbert. "We tried something on the car that we haven't done before and seems to have paid off. It might be a bit quicker at the start of the second session so we will have one last go, but then I think it is important we settle on a good race set-up."
With several rain showers during the day washing away any rubber that may have been laid down in yesterday's two practice sessions, initial expectations of an improvement in qualifying times were negative. But the temperature rose again shortly before the start of the session and very quickly people began to improve over yesterday's times.
The most significant of these was the impressive Zytek, pedalled by David Brabham, which went fastest of all with 40 minutes left in the session with a 3m33.024s lap. The sleek black British car gave the Audis a headache in the opening LMES race at Monza and proved no less potent here, despite being only ninth fastest yesterday. Indeed only the two Veloqx R8s went faster.
"That was the first clear lap I've had!" said Brabham. "I went for a fast lap but I got caught behind one of the Prodrive Ferraris, but he did me a favour because the next lap was completely clear for me. I expect the Audis will beat us to the pole but we haven't shown our hand until now and I'm satisfied that we have reached our potential with that lap."
The Tom Kristensen/Rinaldo Capello/Seiji Ara Team Goh Audi was fourth fastest ahead of JJ Lehto/Marco Werner/Emanuele Pirro in the Champion Racing R8. Both these cars are expected to try for pole laps in the second of this evening's sessions.
The Sebastien Bourdais/Emmanuel Collard/Nicolas Minassian Pescarolo C60 was once again remarkably quick ahead of the fastest of the Domes, which this time was the Kondo example powered by the Japanese Mugen engine and driven by Hiroki Katoh. Jan Lammers in his Racing for Holland Judd-powered Dome was next fastest. The Dutchman got caught up in traffic and is another expecting more from the final session.
British team Rollcentre Racing only completed three laps in this session after a Judd engine change in its Dallara, but its time from yesterday was enough to keep it ninth in the standings. The team, which has consistently performed well since its step up to the prototype discipline, is now looking towards the race and is unlikely to want to risk the car unless it is pushed too far down the order.
The sister Racing for Holland Dome driven by Tom Coronel and British F1 refugees Justin Wilson and Ralph Firman rounded out the top ten after suffering a misfire on its engine.
In the GTS class, Oliver Gavin stamped out an attempt by the Prodrive Ferraris to interfere with the Corvette's dominance of the division. With 45 minutes left in the session, Rickard Rydell, who shares a Maranello 550 with Colin McRae and Darren Turner, snuck to the front with a 3m51.755s lap. But Gavin was having none of it and within ten minutes had gone two seconds quicker!
"To be honest we were only really working on the race set-up of the car," said Rydell afterwards. "I think we have a good car, and although we might not get pole, I think it's going to be a close fight between us and Corvette in the race."
The Courage of Jean-Marc Gounon remains on pole in the LM2 category while Jorg Bermeister went fastest in the GT division with the Peterson/White Lightning Porsche.
Davies/Herbert/Smith Audi 3m33.024s
Biela/Kaffer/McNish Audi 3m33.233s
Wallace/Brabham/Shimoda Zytek 3m33.923s
Ara/Capello/Kristensen Audi 3m35.075s
Lehto/Werner/Pirro Audi 3m35.892s
Collard/Bourdais/Minassian Pescarolo-Judd 3m36.525s
Katoh/Michigami/Fukuda Dome-Mugen 3m36.736s
Lammers/Dyson/Kaneishi Dome-Judd 3m36.847s
Short/Barff/Barbosa Dallara-Judd 3m39.260s
Coronel/Wilson/Firman Dome-Judd 3m40.261s
Ayari/Comas/Treluyer Pescarolo-Judd 3m40.399s
Newton/Erdos/Kinch Lola-MG 3m42.298s
Stirling/Lupberger/McGarrity Nasamax-Judd 3m44.379s
Nielsen/Elgaard/Moller Lister 3m46.475s
Field/Dayton/Connor Lola-Judd 3m48.670s
Andre/Leuenberger/Vanni Lola-Judd 3m50.703s
Maurylaribiere/Boulay/Besson Reynard-Lehman 3m53.640s
Bourdais/Blanchemain/Berville Panoz 3m57.816s
Andrews/Lockie/Kumpen Lola-Caterpillar 4m14.380s
Frei/Gounon/Hancock Courage-AER 3m42.592s
Belmondo/Gosselin/Saviozzi Courage-AER 3m54.340s
Jeanette/Pickering/Derlot Courage-Willman 3m57.816s
Binnie/Field/Sutherland Lola-Judd 4m05.135s
Terada/Roussel/Porta WR 4m05.852s
Bouvet/Gommendy/Briere WR 4m08.708s
Gavin/Beretta/Magnussen Corvette 3m49.750s
McRae/Rydell/Turner Ferrari 550 3m51.755s
Fellows/O'Connell/Papis Corvette 3m52.768s
Enge/Kox/Menu Ferrari 550 3m53.771s
Bouchut/Goueslard/Dupard Ferrari 550 3m55.500s
Hezemans/Deletraz/Barde Ferrari 575 4m00.714s
Bosch/Sullivan/Biagi Ferrari 575 4m06.375s
Maasen/Bergmeister/Long Porsche 4m07.394s
Hindery/Lieb/Rockenfeller Porsche 4m09.259s
Kelleners/Ortelli/Dumas Porsche 4m10.011s
Melo/Daoudi/de Fournoux Ferrari 360 4m11.025s
Rosa/van Merkstein/Caffi Porsche 4m11.870s
Khan/Smith/Sugden Porsche 4m13.009s
Berridge/Caine/Stockton TVR 4m13.620s
Burgess/Collin/Bagnalli Porsche 4m13.943s
Kurosawa/Nishizawa/Oriodo Porsche 4m13.972s
Alphand/Laveille/Almeras Porsche 4m14.785s
Wilson/Montain/Hugenholtz Ferrari 360 4m18.768s
Vasiliev/Fomenko/Nearn Porsche 4m18.973s
Tomlinson/Greensall/Evans TVR 4m19.980s
Donaldson/Fisken/Nielsen Porsche 4m20.010s
Warnock/Matthews/Daniels Porsche 4m21.277s
Sharpe/Hyde/Cunningham Morgan 4m24.080s
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