Warm-up: Business as usual for Audi

Just how dominant is Audi? Well, to put things into some sort of perspective, the Saturday morning warm-up times set by the trio of Joest Racing-run R8s were faster than anything the rest of the field had managed in eight hours of qualifying.

Warm-up: Business as usual for Audi

Rinaldo Capello topped the time sheets with a 3m37.924s lap, only 0.838s slower than the lap that put the car third on the grid, with Laurent Aiello - team-mate to pole-sitter Allan McNish - second on 3m38.108s and Frank Biela third with a relatively sedate 3m38.938s lap.

The track is finally beginning to provide respectable levels of grip, and the warm-up times reflected that to some extent, but once again the metronomic progress of the German cars will have done little to alter the widely-held opinion that nobody else can realistically win this race - unless Audi somehow contrives to lose it.

Just as they had done during all the previous sessions, Audi made maximum use of the 45-minute warm-up, keeping its cars on-track for virtually the whole session. The team even ran a lap at slow speed to simulate engine cooling should the safety car be deployed. Talk about thorough...

For the race itself, McNish will take the start in the McNish/Aiello/Ortelli car; Biela will be first up in the Biela/Kristensen/Pirro machine and Michele Alboreto will start in the Alboreto/Abt/Capello R8.

For once, best of the rest wasn't the Brabham/Magnussen/Andretti Panoz. Instead, the ever-improving Johansson Matthews Reynard 2KQ of Johansson/Matthews/Smith took fourth behind the Ingolstadt lock-out, pushing 'Brabs' down a spot. But the real surprise of the session was the pace of the Cadillacs: the DAM'S LMP of Bernard/Collard/Montagny took sixth, with the Team Cadillac Lagorce/Leitzinger/Wallace car seventh.

Cadillac had always argued that the week would be a steep learning curve and now it seems the operation's head down, methodical approach is beginning to pay off.

"The car couldn't be more right than it is at the moment," enthused Andy Wallace. "The team have worked extremely hard and now we should just put the thing in the garage, give it a polish and then not do anything else before the race. Le Mans has got a habit of biting the favourites and I think there could be a place for us on the podium, because no way are all three Audis going to finish."

But it wasn't all good news at Cadillac: Kristian Kolby lost the back end of his DAM'S car exiting the Ford chicane and backed into the pit wall, suffering substantial rear-end damage. The Dane was uninjured, but the car will require extensive repair work in the hours remaining to the start.

The pace of the pair of ROC-VW LMP 675 cars also proved a revelation, with Jerome Policand taking the Boullion/Gene/Policand car into ninth and Ralf Kelleners placing the Deletraz/Kelleners/Terrien example 11th on the warm-up sheets. The 2-litre, turbocharged, VW-engined machine is scheduled to stop every 90 minutes, compared to the hour or so of the leading LMP 900 cars - Audi et al - and could prove an extremely competitive prospect over a 24-hour duration.

In the GTS class, the ORECA Chrysler Viper of - you guessed it - Beretta/Wendlinger/Dupuy posted the fastest time, over four seconds clear of the leading Corvette C5-R (Pilgrim/Collins/Freon), way down in fifth in class. In the GT category, normal service was resumed when the Dick Barbour Racing Porsche GT3R headed the Porsche parade, eight tenths of a second ahead of the Larbre Competition example.

For a full list of warm up times click here.


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