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Thursday – Final Qualifying

If the Meteo got it wrong yesterday, their prediction for an 80% chance of rain on Thursday proved depressingly accurate. For much of the day the circuit was alternatively dull and overcast or awash with floodwater, and the day's first track action took place in appalling conditions.

Considering that the average value of the historic Group C machinery on track was probably hovering around the half-million mark, the pace being set by the likes of Justin Law (Jaguar XJR-9), Alex Buncombe (ditto) and Gary Pearson (XJR-11) was astonishing. A time of 4:41.541 in blinding spray and through standing water would probably not look out of place on this year's grid. Luckily, the hour-long session passed largely without incident, and we can look forward to the sight and sound of those magnificent Group C Jaguars, Porsches, Nissans and Spices in action on Saturday morning - hopefully in the dry.

Andy Blackmore released his updated Spotters Guide pages earlier in the day, with a number of amendments to the graphic depictions of this year's grid. The high resolution files necessary for printing out the guides can be downloaded from his Spotters Guides website by clicking on any of the images here. Copyright restrictions mean that we cannot host them here.

Although it is free to download the guides, Andy does invite users to make a donation to the "Miles to end Malaria" campaign. Highcroft Racing and Malaria No More are partners in the programme which is encouraging the motorsport community to support the global effort to end malaria deaths by raising awareness of the problem, and funds the provision of mosquito nets to the people of Africa. All funds raised through Miles To End Malaria will be used by Malaria No More to purchase long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets for distribution in sub-Saharan Africa.

RML AD Group at Le Mans 2010. Photo: Marcus Potts

Second Qualifying Session

Much as it did on Wednesday, the conditions had improved by the time the cars began to congregate in the pitlane for the beginning of the week's second qualifying session at 7:00pm. It's all relative, of course, and what was deemed "better" on Wednesday would have been considered almost perfect on Thursday, such had been the dismal aspect for most of the day. At least the rain had stopped . . . .

RML AD Group at Le Mans 2010. Photo: Marcus Potts

With the track still very damp, Phil Barker held Tommy back in the team garage for the first twenty minutes of the session, just so he could assess the conditions around the circuit, and hope to see the development of a drying line. Then, at a nod, Tommy climbed into the cockpit, dusting off his shoes as he negotiated the broad cills of the Lola, and was then helped into his harness.

RML AD Group at Le Mans 2010. Photo: Marcus PottsWith a single blat and a roar, the HPD V8 erupted into life before settling down into a steady rhythm as oil and coolant temperatures began to rise. The necessary preliminaries completed, the engine was switched off. As race engines do, without the significant weight of a heavy flywheel to maintain the internal momentum, the noise ended abruptly. The crew then hurried through with hot tyres from the infra-red warming ovens at the back of the garage, quickly fitted them to the car, and then eased the car out onto the pit apron.

Rick Perry of RML. Photo: Marcus PottsRefuelling from the overhead gantry completed, Tommy restarted the engine and, at a signal from Rick Perry, the Chief Mechanic (left), accelerated away, the car's lights flashing on the pitlane rev limiter.

Watching the process unfold, it was easy to appreciate that the machines racing around the circuit here at Le Mans are close to the pinnacle of automotive engineering. Perhaps even more so than in the unique and somewhat unreal world of Formula 1, this is where the advances are made that ultimately appear on the road cars that we all drive. Improvements in fuel efficiency, mechanical reliability, braking, gearbox development and tyre compounds are made here by some of the world's top manufacturers, whether they be Peugeot or Audi, Honda or Chevrolet. To be part of that cutting-edge environment is something very special.

Drivers like Tommy Erdos, whose work outside the circuit includes development driving for the likes of Volvo, Ford and Mazda, are at the heart of that work, but this week he's doing what he loves best; racing. His first half-dozen laps this evening confirmed that the track was not yet ready for slick tyres, and with the exception of the #19 Autocon Lola, no car made an improvement during the first fifty minutes or more.

That was when the dry line began to appear, and the first to exploit it were the LMP1 Peugeots. Nick Minassian and Antony Davidson traded fastest sectors as each strived to be the first to post an improved time, and for a while it looked as if a new pole was inevitable, but each lap seemed to end mysteriously in another average time - but see later explanation below.

RML AD Group at Le Mans. Thursday. Photo: David Blumlein

Please note that commentary here was compiled "live", as the session developed, but may have been edited later..

Having made great strides, the Autocon Lola then went off at Dunlop, ending up in the gravel. It had, at least, moved up from last to 29h overall. Tommy resumed the track in time to witness the results of the excursion. It was 55 minutes into the session.

Ten minutes into the second hour, Tommy was back into the pits for a scheduled stop. He'd shown several signs of making an improvement on his time, through the first two sectors anyway, where the dry line was more pronounced, but hadn't quite managed to end the lap cleanly through the traffic.

Eight twenty, and the RML Lola emerged from the garage once again. The distinctive white helmet, with its AW motif, signified the return to the circuit of Andy Wallace.

He embarked on a series of steady laps in the low fifties and, to be honest, he was not alone. Few, if any, were showing any signs of setting times that would alter the overall picture, and as we entered the final half-hour of the second session, the order in LMP2 remained almost exactly as it had at the close of play the day before:

  1. #42 Strakka Racing HPD: 3:36.168 (14th overall) No change
  2. #26 Highcroft HPD: 3:37.202 (18th overall) No change
  3. #40 Quifel ASM Ginetta Zytek: 3:41.968 (20th) No change
  4. #35 Oak Racing Pescarolo Judd: 3:42.399 (21st) No change
  5. #25 RML Lola HPD: 3:44.598 (22nd) No change
  6. #29 Racing Box Lola Judd: 3:51.065 (23rd) No change
  7. #24 Oak Racing Pescarolo Judd: 3:52.730 (24th) No change
  8. #39 KSM Lola Judd: 3:52.972 (25th) No change
  9. #41 Bruichladdich Ginetta Zytek: 3:55.680 (27th) No change
  10. #37 WR Salini Zytek: 3:55.818 (28th) No change
  11. #28 Racing Performance Radical: 3:56.679 (30th) Time improvement, but no change in position.
  12. #38 Pegasus Norma: 4:03.784 (42nd) No change

Changes in overall positions reflect improvements by the #11 Rebellion Lola (Marco Andretti), up to 19th, and the Autocon Lola, through to 29th.

The confusion (and confusion it was, here anyway!) over the sector times was eventually resolved with fifteen minutes to go, when it was confirmed that the sector times being posted on the screens were indicating times exclusively set on Thursday, while fastest lap times overall were listing Wednesday's (or combined) times.

"Lots of traffic, and lots of yellows, so you can't pass, but I love the car!" was Andy's declaration as he completed his allocated laps and returned to the pitlane to hand over to Mike Newton.

Finally, after nearly three and a half hours of Strakka's provisional pole-sitting, it was all-change at the top of LMP2. As he had promised to do on several occasions the evening before, David Brabham came through in the Highcroft HPD to snatch top slot. His time; 3:34.537 was half a second quicker than Jonny Kane's of the evening before.

RML AD Group at Le Mans. Thursday. Photo: David Blumlein

If David Brabham was having a rewarding stint on track, Mike was not. On his out-lap he was tipped into a spin through the Esses, on the run round towards Tetre Rouge. "I was just heading out, so took it gently for the first few corners, and through the Esses. I saw the Beechdean Mansell car coming up behind me, so ran wide to let him through. I was right on the edge of the track, and the next step was onto the grass, but the #7 Audi tried to use the kerb anyway, but I was already on it. He hit the nose just enough to spin me round. I was definitely in the right place." He came to a halt facing the wrong direction. Luckily he caught nothing, either in the spin, or in the hair-raising process of turning back round again, as other cars headed towards him at high speed. He managed to get it round and facing the right way, and then headed back to the pits for a check-up and the end of the session.

Elsewhere in LMP2, the other significant improver was the Pegasus Norma. The all-new chassis is still an unknown quantity, and it's a steep learning curve for the team, but they were making good progress. From last in LMP2, Julien Schell had made it up to 8th in class before the end of the session. LMP2 times were as follows:

  1. #26 Highcroft HPD: 3:34.537 (14th overall) Improved time and position
  2. #42 Strakka Racing HPD: 3:36.168 (15th overall) No change to time, lost position
  3. #40 Quifel ASM Ginetta Zytek: 3:41.968 (20th) No change
  4. #35 Oak Racing Pescarolo Judd: 3:42.399 (21st) No change
  5. #25 RML Lola HPD: 3:44.598 (22nd) No change
  6. #29 Racing Box Lola Judd: 3:47.971 (24th) Improved time, no change in position
  7. #24 Oak Racing Pescarolo Judd: 3:52.730 (24th) No change
  8. #38 Pegasus Norma: 4:52.837 (26th) Improved time and position
  9. #39 KSM Lola Judd: 3:52.972 (27th) No improvement, lost position
  10. #41 Bruichladdich Ginetta Zytek: 3:55.680 (27th) No change, lost position
  11. #37 WR Salini Zytek: 3:55.818 (28th) No change, lost position
  12. #28 Racing Performance Radical: 3:56.679 (30th) No change, lost position.

Julien Schell made his final improvement (as above) in the dying moments of the session, but as the chequered flag fell, the only notable changes in LMP2 were those made by Highcroft HPD and Pegasus. The indications were, though, that the opening moments of the third and final session might, just might, determine Saturday's grid.

Final Qualifying Session

Ten o'clock, and the final session of qualifying for this year's Le Mans 24 Hours got under way. All the top guns were heading the queue to find space on the track, perhaps conscious of the fact that history suggests the opening ten to twenty minutes of the final session can often be the quickest. Cooler ambient temperatures, combined with a day's warmth still retained by the track surface can offer optimum conditions.

Danny Watts, in the Strakka Racing HPD, was evidently keen to exploit this opportunity, and his first flyer was by far the quickest the #42 had done during Thursday, but 3:41.618 was seven seconds shy of David Brabham's new benchmark. Tommy Erdos, out in the RML Lola, was also setting fastest sectors for the day.

Next lap through, and Danny watts made a trio of quick sectors count, regaining provisional pole with a tim of 3:33.975, knocking more than half a second off Brabham's best for Highcroft. A lacklustre qualifying was suddenly coming to life.

To prove the point, with thirteen minutes gone, Tommy Erdos swept through with a new best for the RML Lola, posting move third in LMP2. Olivier Pla was also pushing in the Quifel ASM Ginetta Zytek, and improved his time with a 3:41.724, but shy of Erdos by a tenth.

Watts pitted after his first-flyer performance, but only briefly, and was back out again moments later. So too Tommy Erdos, the two trading slots amongst the hectic traffic as all 55 entrants tried to make the most of the quickening track.

Watts made it count, and whatever tweaks or tyres the team had tried paid off, and his next flyer was a 3:33.079 to move well clear of the Highcroft HPD, Marco Werner in the cockpit of the green and black #26 car. Next through; Thomas Erdos, and a further improvement for the #25 Lola, ducking under three-forty with a time of 3:39.648. Seconds later Matthieu Lahaye romped through to take third for Oak Racing, posting 3:41.310 to deny Pla the position. Half an hour gone . . . and this was as exciting as these qualifying sessions had yet been.

Tommy's third flyer was looking good for further improvement, but he encountered three slower cars battling between themselves through the final sector, and had to back off. He called it a day, and on Phil Barker's suggestion, headed for the pitlane, where he joined Watts and Werner, each pitting their respective HPDs.

The only LMP2 front-runner still on track was Olivier Pla, and next time through he posted a new quicker time for the #40, clocking 3:40.532 to recover the fourth-placed slot. It would probably be the last gasp for qualifying in LMP2 tonight, as the long forecast rain began to fall.

With the onset of rain, the excitement was dampened somewhat, and as it continued to fall, any chance of the times doing the same disappeared. Tommy stepped out of the car, giving Mike a chance to spend more time in the cockpit and put his earlier incident behind him. The two HPDs remained pitbound, perhaps contemplating a "job done" situation.

RML AD Group at Le Mans 2010. Thursday. Photo Jan Hettler

With an hour of the session remaining, only sixteen cars remained on track. Mike's stint ended just before the flag. “I just caught a greasy patch into the Ford Chicane and bounced across the gravel. The session was almost over anyway, so I decided to press on and head for the pitlane. I'd been on for a fifty-seven, two seconds up on my previous lap, but I’d done my three laps in the dark, and the basic pace was there, so happy to get back to the garage, no foul, no harm done."

RML at Le Mans 2010. Photo: Jake Ebery

And that was largely how it concluded. With the "window of opportunity" closed, RML brought down the shutters and started to pack up, anticipating a full rebuild tomorrow. Strakka did the same, more than content with a time that even David Brabham conceded was beyond reach. Highcroft did send the car out again offering Marino Franchitti some more cockpit time. The only LMP2 runner to post an improvement in the latter stages of the day was Hideki Noda in the #39 Schiller Motorsport Lola, but 3:51.310 did nothing to effect the class order. The full qualifying result for LMP2 was:

  1. #42 Strakka Racing HPD: 3:33.079 (15th overall)
  2. #26 Highcroft HPD: 3:34.537 (17th)
  3. #25 RML Lola HPD: 3:39.649 (20th)
  4. #40 Quifel ASM Ginetta Zytek: 3:40.532 (21st)
  5. #35 Oak Racing Pescarolo Judd: 3:41.310 (22nd)
  6. #29 Racing Box Lola Judd: 3:47.971 (24th)
  7. #41 Bruichladdich Ginetta Zytek: 3:51.189 (25th)
  8. #39 KSM Lola Judd: 3:51.310 (26th)
  9. #24 Oak Racing Pescarolo Judd: 3:52.008 (27th)
  10. #38 Pegasus Norma: 4:52.837 (28th)
  11. #37 WR Salini Zytek: 3:53.109 (28th)
  12. #28 Racing Performance Radical: 3:53.942 (30th)

For track images, please view the dedicated Le Mans Gallery.

Le Mans 24 Hours 2010

Circuit de la Sarthe, Le Mans, France
June 10th 2010
Second & Third Qualifying

RML AD Group at Le Mans 2010. Photo: Peter May, Dailysportscar


















RML AD Group at Le Mans 2010. Photo: Marcus Potts



































































































































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