Peugeot sprang a surprise in tonight's two-hour qualifying practice session as Stephane Sarrazin set provisional pole long after it had seemed the order was settled in favor of Audi.
The German marque was provisionally 1-2-3 after pushing hardest when track conditions were optimal during the first 30 minutes of the session, but Sarrazin undercut all three R18s by nine tenths of a second with a sensational lap half an hour from the checkered flag. The session was later red-flagged with a minute left to run when Nick Leventis crashed the Strakka HPD.
Allan McNish set the early pace in the No. 3 R18 but was held up by a Porsche in the final sector on his first flying lap and posted a 3m29.078s, while Mike Rockenfeller benefited from the 911 belatedly scuttling out of McNish's path to flash by in 3m27.949s.
Traffic also hampered the Peugeot drivers' efforts to better the Audis in this opening phase. Alex Wurz lost several seconds in the final sector, where the slower cars cannot easily move off the racing line, stopping the clock at 3m30.354s. He bettered it next time around with a 3m28.796s but this was not quite enough to go ahead of the Audis.
Sebastien Bourdais was next quickest in the No. 9 Peugeot at 3m29.466. Neither car improved on these times for the duration of the session.
As the light dwindled Tom Kristensen took over the No. 3 Audi from McNish, but it was Lotterer who would go fastest of all in the No. 2 R18 with 3m27.939s, while Kristensen improved the No. 3's time to 3m28.301s, still the slowest of the three. Wurz pitted for fresh tires but was unable to improve his time, once again owing to the intervention of traffic.
With the most frantic phase of the session over, Audi pulled its cars in for bodywork changes as it evaluated a variety of different downforce and headlight packages. The session was red-flagged after 55 minutes when Romain Dumas rounded the Mulsanne kink at speed in the No. 1 Audi and found Roald Goethe's Gulf AMR Aston Martin Vantage stationary at the exit. During the five-minute stoppage both cars were removed to parc ferme.
Audi and Peugeot continued to work through their respective programs until Peugeot let Sarrazin loose on fresh tires 90 minutes in. The Frenchman found a clear lap and made the most of it to post a time of 3m27.033, pushing the Lotterer/Fassler/Treluyer Audi down to second and the smashed Rockenfeller/Dumas/Bernhard car to third.
Le Mans veteran Emmanuel Collard put the No. 16 Pescarolo-Judd firmly at the head of the gasoline-powered LMP1s with a 3m35.456s at the beginning of the session, nearly two seconds ahead of the best time summoned by the quickest Rebellion Lola-Toyota.
Aston Martin had another troubled session. Christian Klien lost the front left wing of the No. 007 Aston Martin 20 minutes into the session, which consigned the car to the garage for lengthy repairs, while Adrian Fernandez briefly halted the No. 009 out on track five minutes later.
Strakka Racing snatched the LMP2 lead from the Signatech ORECA-Nissan, also after the sweet spot for fast laps had supposedly ended. Jonny Kane got aboard the HPD ARX.01 nearly 40 minutes into the session and went through in 3m42.615, nearly half a second quicker than Signatech's Franck Mailleux. Unfortunately for Strakka, Leventis crashed the HPD at the Dunlop bridge at the end of the session (see separate story), causing another red flag.
The GTE Pro class was fiercely contested during the opening half hour as more cars slipped under the four-minute mark. BMW remained the pacesetters as the No. 56 Hand/Priaulx/Muller M3 GT set a 3m58.426s, followed by the Bruni/Vilander/Fisichella AF Corse Ferrari 458 at 3m58.989 and the Farfus/Werner/Muller BMW at 3m59.321s.
Larbre Competition's Porsche 911 driven by Christophe Bourret, Pascal Gibson and Jean-Phillippe Belloc led GTE Am by a relatively healthy margin. Its 4m03.918s was eight tenths of a second quicker than the second-placed No. 81 Flying Lizard Porsche which had set the pace in the first practice session. Spencer Pumpelly set that car's fastest time of 4m04.747s in the final minutes of the session.
The No. 60 Gulf AMR Aston Martin Vantage remained third quickest despite spending the balance of the session out of action.
Pos Cl Drivers Team/Car Time
1. LMP1 Montagny/Sarrazin/Minassian Peugeot 908 3m27.033s
2. LMP1 Fassler/Lotterer/Treluyer Audi R18 TDI 3m27.939s
3. LMP1 Bernhard/Dumas/Rockenfeller Audi R18 TDI 3m27.949s
4. LMP1 Capello/Kristensen/McNish Audi R18 TDI 3m28.301s
5. LMP1 Gene/Wurz/Davidson Peugeot 908 3m28.796s
6. LMP1 Lamy/Bourdais/Pagenaud Peugeot 908 3m29.466s
7. LMP1 Lapierre/Duval/Panis ORECA Peugeot 908 Hdi-FAP 3m30.084s
8. LMP1 Collard/Tinseau/Jousse Pescarolo-Judd 3m35.456s
9. LMP1 Jani/Prost/Bleekemolen Rebellion Lola-Toyota 3m37.404s
10. LMP1 Belicchi/Boullion/Smith Rebellion Lola-Toyota 3m38.351s
11. LMP1 Monteiro/Moreau/Ragues Oak Pescarolo-Judd 3m39.672s
12. LMP1 Amaral/Pla/Hughes Quifel-ASM Zytek 3m41.019s
13. LMP2 Leventis/Watts/Kane Strakka HPD ARX-01d 3m42.615s
14. LMP2 Mailleux/Ordonez/Ayari Signatech ORECA-Nissan 3m43.124s
15. LMP2 Premat/Hallyday/Kraihamer Oreca-Nissan 3m43.654s
16. LMP2 Ojjeh/Kimber-Smith/Lombard Greaves Zytek-Nissan 3m43.814s
17. LMP2 Frey/Meichtry/Rostan Race Performance ORECA-Judd 3m44.294s
18. LMP1 Ickx/Martin/Leinders Kronos Aston Martin 3m44.415s
19. LMP2 Perez Companc/Russo/Kaffer Pecom Lola-Judd 3m45.997s
20. LMP2 Erdos/Newton/Collins RML HPD ARX-01d 3m47.308s
21. LMP1 Zacchia/Lammers/Elgaard Hope ORECA 3m47.691s
22. LMP2 Nakano/De Crem/Charouz Oak Racing Pescarolo-BMW 3m48.211s
23. LMP1 Hein/Nicolet/Yvon Oak Pescarolo-Judd 3m48.852s
24. LMP2 Tucker/Bouchut/Barbosa Level 5 Lola-Honda 3m51.149s
25. LMP2 Rosier/Haezbrouck/Fournoux Extreme Limite Norma-Judd 3m51.438s
26. LMP1 Primat/Fernandez/Meyrick Aston Martin AMR-One 3m56.637s
27. LMP1 Mucke/Turner/Klien Aston Martin AMR-One 3m56.847s
28. LMP2 Barlesi/Da Rocha/Lafargue Oak Pescarolo-Judd 3m57.453s
29. GTE P Priaulx/Muller/Hand BMW M3 3m58.426s
30. GTE P Fisichella/Bruni/Vilander AF Corse Ferrari 3m58.989s
31. GTE P Farfus/Muller/Werner BMW M3 3m59.321s
32. GTE P Gavin/Magnussen/Westbrook Corvette C6 ZR1 3m59.519s
33. GTE P Beretta/Milner/Garcia Corvette C6 ZR1 3m59.633s
34. GTE P Ortelli/Makowiecki/Melo Luxury Racing Ferrari 3m59.901s
35. GTE P Goossens/Holzer/Van Lagen Prospeed Porsche 3m59.962s
36. GTE P Lieb/Lietz/Henzler Felbermayr-Proton Porsche 3m59.998s
37. GTE P Farnbacher/Simonsen/Keen Farnbacher Ferrari 4m00.260s
38. GTE P Dolan/Hancock/Buncombe Jota Aston Martin 4m00.747s
39. GTE P Bergmeister/Long/Luhr Flying Lizard 4m01.480s
40. GTE P Beltoise/Jakubowski/Thiret Luxury Racing Ferrari 4m02.017s
41. GTE P Al Faisal/Tandy/Miller Felbermayr-Proton Porsche 4m02.049s
42. GTE A Bourret/Gibon/Belloc Larbre Porsche 4m03.918s
43. GTE A Niemen/Law/Pumpelly Flying Lizard Porsche 4m04.747s
44. GTE A Giroix/Goethe/Wainwright Gulf Aston Martin 4m04.825s
45. GTE A Felbermayr/Felbermayr/Ried Felbermayr-Proton Porsche 4m05.154s
46. GTE A Krohn/Jonsson/Rugulo Krohn Ferrari 4m05.856s
47. GTE A Bornhauser/Canal/Gardel Larbre Porsche 4m05.955s
48. GTE P Bell/Sugden/Maasen JMW Ferrari 4m06.884s
49. GTE P Hirschi/Rossiter/Mowlem Jetalliance Lotus Evora 4m07.465s
50. GTE P Kauffman/Waltrip/Aguas AF Corse Ferrari 4m08.213s
51. GTE A Perazzini/Cioci/Breslin AF Corse Ferrari 4m10.316s
52. GTE A Rodrigues/Menahem/Marroc JMB ORECA 4m10.335s
53. GTE P Rich/Slingerland/Hartshorne Jetalliance Lotus Evora 4m17.379s
54. GTE A Ehret/Lynn/Wills CRS Ferrari 4m26.249s
55. GTE A Robertson/Robertson/Murry Robertson Racing Ford-Doran no time
56. GTE P Pilet/Narac/Armindo IMSA Performance Porsche no time