Herbert takes first blood
Le Mans 2004 is underway - and the first qualifying session today (Wednesday) pointed to the expected Audi domination of the event. Johnny Herbert set the fastest time in the all-British Audi UK entry, with two other R8's following the Briton
Herbert's time is probably nowhere near what will ultimately claim pole position, but he will no doubt be a contender when drivers go for fast times in this evening's second session. There have been predictions of stormy weather tomorrow, which means that tonight could be the best chance for a good lap time.
Tom Kristensen (last year's pole man) is the next-best Audi so far. The five-time race winner is driving for the Japanese Goh team and is partnered by Seiji Ara and Rinaldo Capello. But the Dane was over two seconds behind Herbert on the Circuit de la Sarthe.
"The temperature was very hot, so we were focussing on getting a race car we are all happy with," said Kristensen, who is going for his fifth straight win this year. "Johnny knows his way around here so its not surprise to us. I just hope we can eclipse that later this evening when we try a set of qualifiers."
Allan McNish set the quickest time in the second Audi UK car, which was third on the time sheets. Next up, and the first machine not from Ingolstadt, was the Racing for Holland Dome-Judd that has led the charge in recent years. Popular team owner Jan Lammers was responsible for the best time in that entry.
Possible pole contender Zytek has not yet show its true pace, with a few handling and brake problems early in the session. Its driver Andy Wallace expects a better showing later on: "The track is very slippery as it always is in the first session," said Wallace. "It might still be slippery later on, but the trick is not to chase the track and gradually pick up grip."
The British Rollcentre Racing team impressed as Rob Barff took the Dallara-Judd to eighth quickest time, while Justin Wilson and Ralf Firman's Racing for Holland Dome was 10th quickest.
Oliver Gavin is currently on pole in the GTS class for Corvette while WRC star Colin McRae, making his Le Mans debut in a Care Racing Ferrari was fourth quickest.
The second of the four two-hour sessions will start at 2200 BST.
Davies/Herbert/Smith Audi 3m34.907s
Ara/Capello/Kristensen Audi 3m37.036s
Biela/Kaffer/McNish Audi 3m38.299s
Lammers/Dyson/Kaneishi Dome-Judd 3m38.711s
Lehto/Werner/Pirro Audi 3m39.091s
Ayari/Comas/Treluyer Pescarolo-Judd 3m40.481s
Wallace/Brabham/Shimoda Zytek 3m41.181s
Short/Barff/Barbosa Dallara-Judd 3m41.854s
Katoh/Michigami/Fukuda Dome-Mugen 3m42.143s
Coronel/Wilson/Firman Dome-Judd 3m43.122s
Frei/Gounon/Hancock Courage-AER 3m46.020s
Jeanette/Pickering/Derlot Courage-Willman 3m57.850s
Terada/Roussel/Porta WR 4m07.762s
Bouvet/Gommendy/Briere WR 4m08.708s
Binnie/Field/Sutherland Lola-Judd 4m34.205s
Belmondo/Gosselin/Saviozzi Courage-AER no time
Gavin/Beretta/Magnussen Corvette 3m54.359s
Enge/Kox/Menu Ferrari 550 3m57.353s
Fellows/O'Connell/Papis Corvette 3m58.271s
McRae/Rydell/Turner Ferrari 550 3m58.493s
Bouchut/Goueslard/Dupard Ferrari 550 4m00.004s
Hezemans/Deletraz/Barde Ferrari 575 4m03.595s
Maasen/Bergmeister/Long Porsche 4m09.679s
Melo/Daoudi/Fournoux Ferrari 360 4m11.554s
Hindery/Lieb/Rockenfeller Porsche 4m14.111s
Rosa/van Merkstein/Caffi Posrche 4m15.108s
Kurosawa/Nishizawa/Oriodo Porsche 4m17.246s
Khan/Smith/Sugden Porsche 4m18.121s
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