Peugeot hammered home its advantage over Audi in final qualifying for this weekend's Le Mans 24 Hours by cementing its sweep of the first two rows of the grid in final qualifying.
Le Mans-born Sebastien Bourdais was the man to clinch pole position, with his 3m19.711s effort on Wednesday proving good enough to grasp the top spot. Stephane Sarrazin, who had taken the last three consecutive 24 Hours poles, was denied the opportunity to extend his streak when the final stint in the No. 2 car was given to Nicolas Minassian.
Audi had closed the gap to the Peugeots, with first Allan McNish moving into the 3m22s and then Mike Rockenfeller launching one into the 3m21s – less than eight tenths slower than the fourth-placed ORECA Peugeot.
But just as Audi's hopes of challenging Peugeot's dominant pace gathered steam, the French marque sent its cars out for one last crushing run.
None of the four cars improved their times over the benchmarks they set on Wednesday, but Bourdais, Minassian and Nicolas Lapierre shared purple sectors lap after lap to underline the cushion they have enjoyed over Audi since rolling the 908s off the trucks.
"It was a really, really strong effort," said Bourdais. "Everyone is really happy with the performance of the car and how comfortable it is to drive it. I am very proud to put the No. 3 car on pole, but this is only the start.
"Obviously, we are happy that they [Audi] didn't put on a great show, or display a great amount of speed, but honestly we just focused on our own things – to make our car the fastest one and to be in a good position for the race. Then the tough job is still ahead of us, so we're not going to get carried away. We will just stay smart and be conservative when we have to.
"I'm impressed with the margin of progress we displayed [over last year]. The way the car drives now compared to last year is very much appreciated. I couldn't really throw it all before, but now I really feel like I can."
Danny Watts and Strakka Racing took the LMP2 class lead back from Highcroft in the battle of the HPDs. David Brabham had swept ahead in this evening's earlier qualifying segment, but Watts countered early on tonight with an effort another 1.5sec quicker.
Tomas Enge's best lap from Wednesday in the Young Drivers Aston Martin proved enough to hold on to the GT1 top spot. Bas Leinders had moved the No. 70 Marc VDS Ford GT into second earlier this evening and tonight Romain Grosjean took his Matech-run Ford into third.
Olivier Beretta and Antonio Garcia vaulted the two works Corvettes ahead of the remaining AF Corse Ferrari to second and third in GT2. But Gianmaria Bruni's Wednesday effort in the No. 82 Risi Competizione Ferrari (left) stood unbeaten at the head of the class – until the cars times were disallowed when the car failed scrutineering (see separate story). The car will therefore start from the back.
There were fewer incidents in the final two hours of qualifying as teams closed in on their final race preparations. Though the Dunlop chicane still claimed a hat-trick of victims after some drizzle midway through the session – the No. 88 Felbermayr Porsche, Bryce Miller in the JMW Aston Martin and Jean Alesi in the AF Corse Ferrari all had a spin on the approach.
The No. 24 Oak Racing Pescarolo stopped on the track between the Esses and Tertre Rouge, and Oliver Jarvis had to limp back to the pits in the No. 15 Kolles Audi R10 after its left rear tire disintegrated.
Pos Drivers Cls Car Time Gap
1. Lamy/Bourdais/Pagenaud P1 Peugeot 908 3:19.711
2. Wurz/Davidson/Gene P1 Peugeot 908 3:20.317 +0.606
3. Montagny/Sarrazin/Minassian P1 Peugeot 908 3:20.325 +0.614
4. Panis/Lapierre/Duval P1 ORECA Peugeot 908 3:21.192 +1.481
5. Bernhard/Dumas/Rockenfeller P1 Audi R15 3:21.981 +3.867
6. Kristensen/McNish/Capello P1 Audi R15 3:22.176 +2.465
7. Fassler/Lotterer/Treluyer P1 Audi R15 3:23.605 +3.894
8. Mucke/Fernandez/Primat P1 Lola-Aston Martin 3:26.680 +6.969
9. Turner/Hancock/Barazi P1 Lola-Aston Martin 3:26.747 +7.036
10. Ayari/Andre/Meyrick P1 ORECA 01-AIM 3:29.506 +9.795
11. Mailleux/Ragues/Ickx P1 Signature Aston 3:29.774 +10.063
12. Bouchut/Tucker/Rodrigues P1 Kolles Audi R10 3:30.907 +11.196
13. Jarvis/Albers/Bakkerud P1 Kolles Audi R10 3:31.661 +11.950
14. Pirro/Cocker/Drayson P1 Drayson Lola 3:31.862 +12.151
15. Watts/Kane/Leventis P2 Strakka HPD ARX-01 3:33.079 +13.368
16. Jani/Andretti/Prost P1 Rebellion Lola 3:33.490 +13.779
17. Brabham/Franchitti/Werner P2 Highcroft HPD 3:34.537 +14.826
18. Mansell/Mansell/Mansell P1 Beechdean Ginetta 3:36.897 +17.186
19. Belicchi/Boullion/Smith P1 Rebellion Lola 3:37.093 +17.382
20. Erdos/Newton/Wallace P2 RML Lola HPD 3:39.648 +19.937
21. Hughes/Amaral/Pla P2 ASM Ginetta-Zytek 3:40.532 +20.821
22. Moreau/Charouz/Lahaye P2 Oak Pescarolo 3:41.310 +21.599
23. Lewis/Burgess/Willman P1 Autocon Lola-AER 3:43.167 +23.456
24. Pirri/Cioci/Perrazzini P2 Racing Box Lola 3:47.971 +28.260
25. Greaves/Ojjeh/Chalandon P2 Bruichladdich 3:51.189 +31.478
26. Noda/Pourtales/Kennard P2 KSM Lola-Judd 3:51.310 +31.599
27. Hein/Nicolet/Yvon P2 Oak Pescarolo 3:52.008 +32.297
28. Schell/da Rocha/Zollinger P2 Pegasus Norma 3:52.837 +33.126
29. Salini/Salini/Gommendy P2 WR/Salini WR 3:53.109 +33.398
30. Rostan/Meichtry/Bruneau P2 Race Perf Radical 3:53.942 +34.231
31. Enge/Nygaard/Kox GT1 YD Aston 3:55.025 +35.314
32. Leinders/Palttala/de Doncker GT1 Marc VDS Ford GT 3:55.356 +35.645
33. Grosjean/Mutsch/Hirschi GT1 Matech Ford GT 3:55.583 +35.872
34. Jousse/Gouselard/Massen GT1 Alphand Corvette 3:58.810 +39.099
35. Policand/Gregoire/Hart GT1 Alphand Corvette 3:58.906 +39.195
36. Bruni/Melo/Kaffer GT2 Risi Ferrari 3:59.233 +39.522
37. Gavin/Beretta/Collard GT2 Corvette 3:59.435 +39.724
38. O'Connell/Magnussen/Garcia GT2 Corvette 3:59.793 +40.082
39. Alesi/Fisichella/Vilander GT2 AF Corse Ferrari 3:59.837 +40.126
40. Allemann/Gachnang/Frey GT1 Matech Ford GT 4:01.628 +41.917
41. Lieb/Lietz/Henzler GT2 Felbermayr Porsche 4:01.640 +41.929
42. Pilet/Narac/Long GT2 IMSA Porsche 4:01.755 +42.044
43. Farfus/J Muller/Alzen GT2 BMW M3 4:01.893 +42.182
44. Westbrook/Scheider/Holzer GT2 BMS Porsche 4:02.014 +42.303
45. Farnbacher/Simonsen/Keen GT2 Hankook Ferrari 4:02.427 +42.716
46. Bergmeister/Law/Neiman GT2 Fl. Lizard Porsche 4:02.685 +42.974
47. Gardel/Berville/Canal GT1 Larbre Saleen 4:03.175 +43.464
48. Priaulx/D Muller/Werner GT2 BMW M3 4:03.215 +43.504
49. Krohn/Jonsson/van de Poele GT2 Risi Ferrari 4:03.959 +44.248
50. Coronel/Dumbreck/Bleekemolen GT2 Spyker 4:04.057 +44.346
51. Bell/Sugden/Miller GT2 JMW Aston Martin 4:04.303 +44.592
52. Yogo/Iiri/Yamanishi GT1 JLOC Lamborghini 4:05.170 +45.459
53. v.Splunteren/Hommerson/MachielGT2 Prospeed Porsche 4:10.017 +50.306
54. Felbermayr/Felbermayr/Konopka GT2 Felbermayr Porsche 4:10.054 +50.343
55. Goossens/Dalziel/Gentilozzi GT2 Jaguar XKR 4m12.431 +52.720
56. Salo/Russo/Companc GT2 AF Corse Ferrari withdrawn