Qualifying 3: Audi two, Audi one
The number two Audi of Rinaldo Capello, Christian Pescatori and Johnny Herbert is on course to start this year's Le Mans 24 Hours from pole position after increasing its advantage over its sister car at the head of the field in the penultimate session of qualifying. The Audis were unchallenged at the head of the times, with the ORECA Dallara of Stephane Sarrazin coming closest, albeit two seconds off Capello's searing pace
Conditions were warmer than they were during first qualifying and for most of the two-hour session improvements were few and far between. But as the sun started setting and temperatures dropped there was a flurry of on-track activity and all of the top three recorded new fastest times.
Capello's stunning effort was easily the quickest, although Tom Kristensen in the number one R8 was just hundredths down at the second split. However, by the end of his lap that gap had stretched to over half a second. Third place on the provisional grid went to the lead ORECA, who took over two seconds off their previous best and demoted the number three Audi to fourth. The Dallara's cause was aided after the Racing for Holland Dome had all of its Wednesday qualifying times disallowed for fuel irregularities.
Lead driver Jan Lammers eventually set a best time good enough for seventh, but it was a couple of seconds shy of the pace he showed yesterday and he has it all to do in the final session tonight.
At one stage Mark Blundell looked set to put the MG on the second row, but the car stopped at the beginning of the Mulsanne straight with engine failure and ended the session in fifth. The sister car of Anthony Reid, Warren Hughes and Johnny Kane has now qualified for Saturday's race and was one of the few cars to improve early in the session. At one stage it was as high as eighth, but was eventually bumped down to 11th.
One of the big movers was the Cadillac of JJ Lehto, Eric Bernard and Emmanuel Collard, which moved up from 12th to sixth, while the sole Bentley dropped from 10th to 13th. The Ascari bettered its overnight time by almost two seconds, but remained 15th.
It was a tough session for the Goh Audi, which had been worked on all night following an incident in the second qualifying session. However, no sooner had Yannick Dalmas finally taken to the track than the R8 succumbed to an electrical failure, forcing the Frenchman to abandon the car at the side of the track.
The two-hour session was interrupted almost exactly half way through so that the marshals could clean up oil that had been dropped on the final corner. The respite was of no use to the leading GTS Ferrari 550 however, which stopped on track on its very first lap with transmission failure. Tomas Enge was at the wheel at the time. Despite not setting a competitive time, the car still holds the class pole.
There was no change at the head of the GT group either, as the number 81 Porsche of Lucar Luhr retained its provisional pole despite a trip into the gravel.
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