Qualifying: Capello nicks pole as Audi rules

Just as works Audi driver Tom Kristensen began to believe his Wednesday qualifying time would be good enough for the pole position for the 69th Le Mans 24 Hours, Rinaldo Capello banged in the time he knew he had been capable of all along and placed the lesser-fancied of the two works R8s on top of the pile for this weekend's enduro classic

Qualifying: Capello nicks pole as Audi rules

Audi had kept its powder dry in the first of Thursday's pair of two-hour timed sessions, but in the opening minutes of the second segment, with cool air, but a fast-cooling track, the Italian fitted the soft Michelins (not a qualifier, he insisted...) and rattled off a lap of 1m32.429s - just 0.029s quicker than Kristensen's Wednesday benchmark.

Kristensen, running nearer to race trim than the Capello car, attempted to counter his team mate's time, but punctured and strayed onto the dirt, before limping back to the pits. Game over for a surprised Dane, who believed that with race engines now fitted, the Joest-run works cars would be looking at race set-ups, not all-out qualifying speed.

A grinning and totally unrepentant Capello maintained that pole should always have been his anyway, saying: "Yesterday (Wednesday) I felt a big potential in my car. I knew I had to try again today.

"I had a problem with an LMP 675 car on my fast lap, and my dash display wasn't working either, but when I saw the time on the big screen as I drove past, I thought 'now my work is done'."

Kristensen, along with car mates Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro, is the defending champion, but Capello believes that he, Laurent Aiello and Christian Pescatori can put up a real fight in the race itself, yet should be watching out for the unexpected.

"We're driving a very quick car - the quickest on the track," he said, "but in a 24-hour race, you never know what can happen. To win the race, you have to finish the race."

Kristensen shrugged off his disappointment, saying: "I had a small off due to the puncture, but I was running in race conditions, so I wasn't really expecting to go for a time anyway."

Four Audi R8s will start the race, with all of them in the top five. The 2001-spec Champion-run car of Johnny Herbert/Didier Theys/Ralf Kelleners starts third, with the 2000-spec Gulf Johansson car in fifth. Between them, the Racing for Holland Dome continued to impress, improving its time to 3m34.838s with team boss Jan Lammers at the wheel.

Before the closing minutes of the first two-hour segment, the Johansson car had failed to better eighth on the grid, but team owner Stefan pulled out the stops and cranked out a lap that pushed it to fifth, despite light rain falling on parts of the Mulsanne Straight.

The Chrysler-Mopar of Wendlinger/Beretta/Lamy failed to improve on its Wednesday time, but clung on to sixth after a night of 'what ifs?' for Martin Brundle and the lead Bentley.

Twice Brundle looked like moving up from an overnight sixth, but twice he was baulked by slower cars on his flying laps and in the end fell to seventh, thanks to Johansson's promotion.

In the second of the two British Racing Green Speed 8s, Andy Wallace fell from seventh to ninth, thanks to Cadillac getting its act together and getting the Bernard/Collard/Goossens car into eighth.

Local marque Courage completed the top 10, with the Peugeot-powered car of Gache/Policand/Beltoise edging out the second of the three Chryslers and the second Cadillac.

In the LMP675 Class, Anthony Reid and the fast, but potentially fragile MG continued to impress. The Chamberlain-run team kept its powder dry in the first two-hour chunk, but let Reid loose after team mates Jonny Kane and Warren Hughes had completed the requisite number of laps to enable them to start.

"I can't tell you how good this MG chassis is," enthused Reid of his Lola-built machine. "It's sensational. This is the first time we've run at proper racing speeds and it's unquestionably the best sportscar I've ever driven."

In the end, Reid was 14th overall, faster than several LMP900 cars and over two seconds quicker than the second LMP675 entry - the second MG.

Oliver Gavin held the provisional pole for the Speedlab Saleen team after Wednesday's sessions, but made sure of it with an improvement early in the Thursday thrash. Ron Fellows' Corvette stayed second in class, despite not improving its time after its Wednesday shunt.

In the GT Class, the lone Callaway among the Porsches improved its time by nearly three seconds, putting over 1.5s between itself and the first of the Porker armada.

Friday is a rest day at the track, with teams honing and double-checking in preparation for Saturday's 4pm (local time, 15:00 BST) start.

For full results click here.



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