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Wednesday – Practice and First Qualifying

Having a gap in the schedule on Tuesday met with general approval throughout the paddock, but with Wednesday comes a return to a more normal routine, although even this is a little different from previous years.

With the abandonment, probably permanently now, of the pre-race practice weekend, formerly staged a fortnight or so before the main event, the ACO has deemed Wednesday to be practice day. This year the first period has been extended to four hours, kicking off at four o'clock. The second session, starting at ten, will double as the first qualifying session, and times set during this two-hour period could determine pole on Saturday.

Tuesday Recap . . .

Looking back to Tuesday, the teams took advantage of the extra day to carry out a slightly more leisurely final prep for their cars ahead of practice and qualifying, and the reduced stress and relaxed atmosphere was certainly appreciated by most of those we spoke to.

Through the day various press conferences, media launches (and lunches) and statutory meetings and briefings were arranged, but the only obligatory requirement was a staged "autograph session" in the pitlane. Over the years many teams have traditionally organised this on the Friday, but with an additional day of open pitlane access for the public, the ACO made this obligatory on Saturday.

After a day of mixed weather, ranging from hazy sunshine to dull and overcast, the autograph session was scheduled to begin at five o'clock. The rain duly arrived. The guys at RML had set out a table in front of the team garage, and Mike, Tommy and Andy took up their stations, ready to begin signing the team's new HeroCard. They'd probably managed to hand out a few dozen before the light but bearable drizzle became a serious and uncomfortable rain. They scurried for cover in the garage.

Mike found the only umbrella not already in team hospitality, and returned there. Tommy accepted an invitation from Phil to carry out some preparation work in the cockpit, while Andy stood to one side, head cocked towards the skies, waiting for the rain to stop. It eventually did, and he headed back out to continue signing cards, posters, programmes and photographs to a pitlane of spectators that was steadily becoming busier.

After twenty minutes of solitary commitment, he was joined by Tommy, his duties in the Lola completed. The two RML drivers stuck at it until almost six o'clock, and handed out several hundred HeroCards.

They were nearing the end of the first boxful when the heavens opened. In a matter of moments, both were drenched through to the skin and the pitlane was deserted (below). Andy's white shirt clung to him like clingfilm, and even if the rain did stop (which it would, eventually) they decided to call it a day.

Wednesday, First Session

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

At four o'clock, Le Mans 2010 truly began. Within five minutes more than forty of the 56 cars entered for the race had left the pitlane, and with good reason. During the course of the previous half hour the first spots of rain had started to pepper the paddock. Eyes peered up towards glowering clouds, and hands were outstretched to judge the seriousness of what was to come. There was a sense of urgency, as teams attempted to make the most of whatever dry track they could find. The forecast has been for rain in every session until the race, and few want to arrive there with no experience of dry running. The opening minutes of the first session could become critical

Tommy was amongst the first to emerge, and completed a single exploratory lap before returning to the pitlane. It was business as usual in the RML garage. A quick once-over and check, and the Brazilian was back out again.

RML at Le Mans 2010. Photo: David Lord, Dailysportscar

First to set a quick time in LMP2 was Jonny Kane in the #42 Strakka HPD, emerging 11th quickest overall as the twenty-minute mark came up, posting 3:54.275. Karim Ojeh had set second quickest, and Tommy third on 3:59.018.

With twenty-five minutes completed, and the sun breaking through the clouds, Tommy was given clearance for four timed laps. Highcroft had yet to take to the track, but Olivier Pla had set quickest overall for LMP2 on 3:52.133. Second was Karim Ojeh, having improved to a 3:52.553, and Jonny Kane remained third, his time unchanged. Tommy wasn't yet up to speed.

Jonny Kane then re-set the class benchmark by clocking 3:44.016, twelfth overall and significantly quicker than several LMP1 cars.

Tommy's times steadily improved, with a 3:56.108 being followed by a 3:47.247 to move to second fastest in LMP2, 16th overall.

RML at Le Mans 2010. Photo: Jacob Ebrey

Up at the top, Anthony Davidson was fastest overall in the #1 Peugeot on 3:29.422, with the #2 second, and the first of the Audi R15s, the #7, third.

Tommy's next was a 3:43.396, to move closer to Jonny Kane's best, but the Ulsterman then responded with a 3:43.245 to move into 11th overall. Third in LMP2 at this stage, with 37 minutes gone, was Guillaume Moreau in the #35 Oak Racing Pescarolo. Still no sign of the Highcroft HPD.

With forty minutes gone, Olivier Pla had managed a 3:47.011 to regain third from Moreau, while Kane too had found another three seconds, exactly, to post a 3:40.245. He promptly pitted. On the next lap round, Tommy also headed for the garage, and a few additional tweaks.

With the top three in LMP2 all in the pits - Strakka, RML and Quifel ASM - Lahaye had taken over in the #35, and Ojeh was still circulating in the #41 Bruichladdich Ginetta Zytek, two seconds quicker than Ciocci in the #29 Racing Box Lola, and Nicolet, 7th in class for the #24 Oak Racing Pescarolo on 3:58.212. With the WR Salini 8th in class, 26th overall, that completed the list of those active in LMP2.

The Highcroft HPD had completed a single out-lap and returned directly to the garage, David Brabham in the cockpit. The #39 KSM Lola was ninth, 44th overall, the Pegasus Norma tenth, 49th overall, and the Racing Performance Radical eleventh, 53rd overall. Although shown as last on the screens, being the only car to have completed a lap but not set a time, the Highcroft HPD still had one car behind it - the Jaguar set a time.

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

When Strakka emerged once again, Danny Watts was in the cockpit of the HPD. At RML, it was Erdos who took the red,white and blue Lola back out for a second stint. His first flyer was a 3:41.395, improving on his previous best by nearly two seconds. Whatever the team did, it evidently helped.

Pla was also making improvements for Quifel ASM, moving on to a new best of 3:45.618 as the session moved through into its second hour. The #35 Oak Racing Pescarolo remained in fourth, but Lahaye's times were typically eight to ten seconds off the pace previously set by Moreau. New boy Chalandon had taken over in the #41 Ginetta Zytek from Karim Ojeh, but had yet to get up to speed.

The only LMP2 making significant strides up the timing screen at this stage was the #39 KSM Lola. Having languished in the nether regions of the field for the first hour, Jonathan Kennard suddenly found the right gear, metaphorically speaking, and leaped from 44th overall to 27th, clocking 4:01.828, and then 3:59.633 to make his ninth in class look much more representative.

With Watts back in the garage, unable to match or better Kane's earlier time, and Pla pitbound in the ASM Ginetta, only Erdos amongst the class leaders was still out on track, and consistent in the three forty-twos and threes.

Just gone ten past five and the Highcroft HPD finally re-emerged, a full hour after Brabs completed his one and only exploratory lap. Ralph Meichtry in the #28 Radical took this as his signal to set the Race Performance's best time of the session so far: 4:07.29. This was as nothing to Brabham's opening gambit; 3:39.99 setting a new fastest time for LMP2 at the first attempt. This coincided with Erdos returning to the pits, and after one further lap, so too did Brabham.

Five-twenty, and Nick Leventis took over driving duties in the Strakka HPD. Olivier Pla still pushing in the #40 Ginetta Zytek, improving slightly to post 3:55.533, and then again with a 3:42.351 to overtake the last of the current LMP1 runners, Nigel Mansell in the #5 Beechdean Mansell GZ.

An hour and a half gone and Franck Montagny set a new fastest time of 3:22.876 for the #2 Peugeot to better last year's pole. Mike Newton took over in the RML Lola from Erdos, and all the top four LMP2 cars were out on track, but only for a few minutes. Off the track, in a big way, was Grosjean in the #60 Matech Ford. He took to the escape road at the entrance to the Porsche Curves, caught the very corner of the tyre wall, and was knocked into a spin that sent debris swirling across the road. The back end of the car looked to be seriously awry, and the barriers were also damaged enough to bring out the red flags. The session was suspended at 5:36.

The pause gave time for a review of the class positions:

  1. #26 Highcroft HPD: 3:39.999 (17th overall)
  2. #42 Strakka Racing HPD: 3:40.245 (18th)
  3. #25 RML Lola HPD: 3:41.395 (19th)
  4. #40 Quifel ASM Ginetta Zytek: 3:43.292 (20th)
  5. #35 Oak Racing Pescarolo Judd: 3:47.617 (22nd)
  6. #41 Bruichladdich Ginetta Zytek: 3:52.034 (23rd)
  7. #39 KSM Lola Judd: 3:54.223 (24th)
  8. #29 Racing Box Lola Judd: 3:54.763 (25th)
  9. #24 Oak Racing Pescarolo Judd: 3:56.264 (26th)
  10. #37 WR Salini Zytek: 3:56.918 (27th)
  11. #28 Racing Performance Radical: 3:58.569 (28th)
  12. #38 Pegasus Norma: 4:14.313 (51st)

RML at Le Mans 2010. Photo: Jacob Ebrey

The session resumed at 6:00pm, and on his out-lap Nick Leventis buried the #42 into the gravel at the start of the Dunlop chicane. He got going again, but moments later, the #12 Rebellion Lola spun off at the Esses, just a few metres beyond, and bumped relatively lightly into the tyres before regaining the track. Both cars would return to the pits. Despite these occurrences, there had been no sign yet of the predicted rain.

With one or two exceptions, the timing screens had resolved themselves neatly into classes, at least within the prototype categories. The first 16 times were all occupied by LMP1 cars. Seventeenth through to 28th were LMP2, with the exception of 21st, occupied by the Beechdean Mansell #5. The other exceptions were the Autocon Lola, stranded out on the circuit early in the session but recovered during the break, and yet to set a sensible time, and the Pegasus Norma. The latter, however, was getting into its stride, with Julien Schell starting to set new fastest times for the new car.

The next significant change came at 6:18, when David Brabham set an improved time for the Highcroft HPD of 3:38.691, and then pitted again to hand over to Marino Franchitti. Jonny Kane took over the Strakka HPD, with neither Danny Watts nor Nick Leventis seeming to spend long at the wheel. Miguel Amaral was in the Quifel ASM Ginetta Zytek, and Guillaume Moreau had resumed duties in the #35 Oak Racing Pescarolo.

Jonny Kane makes an improvement for Strakka, posting 3:38.891 to move within two-tenths of Brabham's earlier best for Highcroft. The Erdos best from the opening hour still holds third for RML, with the #40 Quifel ASM fourth. A little further down the order, the #29 Racing Box Lola has moved up to 7th in class, just behind the #24 Oak Racing Pescarolo, which has moved through to sixth, thanks to a best of 3:50.853.

Six-thirty and Andy Wallace takes to the track for his first session of his 21st appearance in the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Danny Watts returned to the Strakka Racing HPD at quarter-to, and after a few trial laps, went for a flyer at 6:50, clocking a new best for the #42 of 3:38.825. It only shaved half a second off the previous Kane best, but narrowed the gap to Highcroft. Marino Franchitti had eased himself gently into the La Sarthe circuit, circulating in the mid-fifties for his opening laps, before posting a succession forty-threes and then pitting.

Another making progress in the right direction was the #29 Racing Box Lola, moving through to sixth, ahead of the #24 Oak Pescarolo. Hideki Noda, in the #39 KSM, was also nudging the orange and white open-topped Lola to 3:52.353, 9th in LMP2 and 26th overall.

RML at Le Mans 2010. Photo: Jacob Ebrey

Moving into the final hour of this first (and only) free practice session, the situation in LMP2 has changed little:

  1. #26 Highcroft HPD: 3:38.691 (17th overall) Improved time
  2. #42 Strakka Racing HPD: 3:38.825 (18th) Improved time
  3. #25 RML Lola HPD: 3:41.395 (19th) No change
  4. #40 Quifel ASM Ginetta Zytek: 3:42.351 (20th) Improved time
  5. #35 Oak Racing Pescarolo Judd: 3:44.178 (22nd) Improved time
  6. #29 Racing Box Lola Judd: 3:49.938 (23rd) Improved time and position
  7. #24 Oak Racing Pescarolo Judd: 3:50.853 (24th) Improved time and position
  8. #41 Bruichladdich Ginetta Zytek: 3:52.034 (25th) No change to time, lost position
  9. #39 KSM Lola Judd: 3:52.353 (26th) Improved time but lost position
  10. #28 Racing Performance Radical: 3:53.773 (27th) Improved time and position
  11. #37 WR Salini Zytek: 3:56.918 (28th) No change to time, lost position
  12. #38 Pegasus Norma: 4:04.994 (43rd) Improved time but no improved position within class

Just after seven, both Franchitti and Wallace returned to the pits. Erdos took over in the RML Lola just as Leventis returned for a second go in the #42 Strakka HPD. The Highcroft HPD, however, returned briefly with Franchitti still in the cockpit for a few more laps, before the Scot swapped with Marco Werner at 7:23. Warren Hughes made his first appearance in the Quifel ASM Ginetta Zytek.

Half an hour to go, and the #42 Strakka Racing HPD was tagged as going "slow", and the #29 Racing Box Lola then stopped at post 100, but Brazilian Thomas Erdos was not holding back at all. His next flyer was a 3:40.312 to make a full second improvement on his earlier time. It wasn't enough to threaten the HPDs, but it did demote the Beechdean Mansell Ginetta Zytek to 20th overall. The first two sectors of his next lap were quicker again, but he wasn't able to build on the good start, and was instructed to return to the pitlane, facing yellows through the Porsche Curves.

After what must have been a frustrating first session for the new car, the Pegasus Norma at last came on stream at 7:35 to post its best time by some margin. 4:03.672 was a huge improvement, but Julien Schell then bettering that with a 4:01.809, and looked likely to break the four-minute barrier.

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

The RML pitstop was only a brief one, and Erdos was soon posting a further succession of fast sectors. He missed a green in the third sector of his next flyer, but still posted an improved time of 3:40.119. His next lap clocked a fastest first sector for the class, and then was followed by a new fastest for the car, before meeting traffic through the Porsche Curves, and electing to pit instead. It was exciting for a few moments though, and bodes well for qualifying. All his best lap times have been significantly quicker than the RML coupé managed last year with the Mazda AER engine, and the team believes there's still more to come from this year's Lola HPD Dunlop package.

The chequered flag fell at 8:00, and the final LMP2 times, with notes on times and positions since the previous check at 7:00, are as follows. :

  1. #26 Highcroft HPD: 3:38.691 (18th overall) No change
  2. #42 Strakka Racing HPD: 3:38.825 (19th) No change
  3. #25 RML Lola HPD: 3:40.119 (20th) Improved time
  4. #40 Quifel ASM Ginetta Zytek: 3:42.351 (20th) No change
  5. #35 Oak Racing Pescarolo Judd: 3:44.178 (22nd) No change
  6. #29 Racing Box Lola Judd: 3:49.938 (23rd) No change
  7. #24 Oak Racing Pescarolo Judd: 3:50.853 (24th) No change
  8. #41 Bruichladdich Ginetta Zytek: 3:51.358 (25th) Improved time
  9. #39 KSM Lola Judd: 3:52.353 (26th) No change
  10. #28 Racing Performance Radical: 3:53.773 (27th) No change
  11. #37 WR Salini Zytek: 3:56.918 (29th) No change
  12. #38 Pegasus Norma: 4:01.809 (33rd) Improved time but no improved position within class.

The next session, which starts at 10:00, is also a qualifying session, and times set will count towards grid positions on Saturday. Those drivers who have not raced here in the last three years, or for whom this is their Le Mans debut, will also have to complete a minimum of ten laps in daylight, three at night, and be within a percentage of the class pole before they can be permitted to take the start, or race at night. All drivers are required to complete three laps (an out-lap, one timed, and an in-lap) at night.

Driver Comments
"That was very encouraging,"said Tommy Erdos. "The car felt very good, and as the track starts to build up the grip levels, I can see this coming together nicely. The car is also very comfortable to drive and, to be honest, more competitive against the HPDs than I'd expected. There's a tiny bit of oversteer, but all very acceptable."

"The engine and the gearbox were excellent, and the tyres were really impressive," said Andy Wallace. "I came out on full tanks, and with the tyres already three stints old, yet they hung in there and offered tremendous grip. If they can do that in the race, then that's a very good sign." Andy had encountered all the usual problems with heavy traffic, and also noted a few instances of LMP1 cars that were slow through the corners, but too quick to pass on the straights, but he still admitted to enjoying his first stint. "I was very impressed with the car. The guys have obviously done an excellent job of putting it together."

RML at Le Mans 2010. Photo: Jacob Ebrey

Wednesday, First Qualifying

Ten o'clock, and with a russet sunset creating a magnificently vibrant backdrop to the grandstands overlooking the Dunlop Chicane, the first qualifying session for the 78th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours got under way.

Tommy Erdos was first out in the RML Lola. All three drivers will need to spend time in the car in order to achieve their qualification requirements, and a good time is needed too, in case tomorrow turns out wet.

The first to get up to speed in LMP2 was Matthieu Lahaye in the #35 Oak Racing Pescarolo, but his occupation of the top slot only lasted a few moments before Marco Werner came through in the Highcroft HPD, and then Jonny Kane eclipsed them both with a stunning first flyer of 3:36.258. This was already a second and a half faster than last year's pole.

When Tommy came through to complete his first flying lap - and one that had been troubled by traffic - he posted 3:44.598, but laid a temporary claim to fifth in LMP2. Werner, meanwhile, had pitted for Highcroft to hand over to Brabham, the intention evidently to get all the drivers qualified before letting anyone loose on a run for pole.

Olivier Pla's first flyer had seemed a little conservative, but his second was a 3:41.968, and placed the #40 Quifel ASM Ginetta Zytek third, behind the two HPDs but ahead of Lahaye. Kane hadn't finished though, and at 10:18 came through with an improvement, posting 3:36.168 to move into 12th overall.

David Brabham's first flyer narrowed the gap to Kane, setting 3:37.202, but left the #42 Strakka Racing HPD retaining its hold on provisional pole. Andy Wallace, meanwhile, was coming out onto the circuit in the RML Lola, his instruction to complete his three-lap requirement. Kane, meanwhile, had pitted for Strakka, and was handing over to Danny Watts.

While most teams seemed to be attempting to ensure the qualification of their drivers, some were also going for pole, certainly in LMP1. With 25 minutes gone, Lapierre held top slot for the Oreca Peugeot #4 with a best of 3:21.192, with Wurz second for the #1, Bourdais third for the #3, and Stefan Mucke fourth and fronting the petrol-powered mob for Aston Martin.

Marino Franchitti was next in the car for Highcroft, and Andy Wallace completed his trio of laps at 10:34. The sunset had gone, and it was almost fully dark. Danny Watts was yet to match his team-mates earlier time.

As Andy Wallace cruised in down the pitlane to complete his qualifying requirement, the session was suspended when one of the GT2 Porsches; the #88 Felbermayr car, had an off and ended up crossways after the Mulsanne Corner.

At 10:50 the session resumed, with one of the Matech Ford GTs first to rejoin. Almost the entire grid was quick to follow, with Mike Newton now aboard the RML Lola, and looking to complete three untroubled laps. The same was likely to be the case for Nick Leventis, in the #42, and Marino Franchitti in the #26.

For some time the timing screens then "went down" around the circuit, and although displaying the correct drivers, were not updating with fresh times. With an hour completed (including stoppage time) the order in LMP2 stood as follows:

  1. #42 Strakka Racing HPD: 3:36.168 (14th overall)
  2. #26 Highcroft HPD: 3:37.202 (15th overall)
  3. #40 Quifel ASM Ginetta Zytek: 3:41.968 (17th)
  4. #35 Oak Racing Pescarolo Judd: 3:42.399 (18th)
  5. #25 RML Lola HPD: 3:44.598 (19th)
  6. #29 Racing Box Lola Judd: 3:51.065 (22nd)
  7. #39 KSM Lola Judd: 3:52.972 (23rd)
  8. #28 Racing Performance Radical: 3:59.361 (28th)
  9. #24 Oak Racing Pescarolo Judd: 4:00.148 (30th)
  10. #38 Pegasus Norma: 4:07.732 (46th)
  11. #37 WR Salini Zytek: 4:10.393 (49th)
  12. #41 Bruichladdich Ginetta Zytek: 4:22.122 (25th)

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

Mike Newton completed his lappery at 11:08, just a coupe of minutes behind Nick Leventis, but neither driver would be able to complete a driver change before the session was halted again, following a heavy shunt for Matias Russo in the #96 Ferrari GT2, somewhere towards the end of the Porsche Curves.

The cars started massing at the end of the pitlane well ahead of the scheduled restart at 11:25; among them Jonny Kane in the Strakka Racing HPD and Marco Werner in the similar Highcroft car, the latter leading the way. The RML Lola was one of just ten cars not to rejoin immediately.

For the first time, the troubled Autocon Lola set a time. 33 minutes wasn't representative, but it could only get better. At the other end of the scale, Sebastien Bourdais was setting a new fastest overall in the #3 Peugeot of 3:19.711. Most of the other top-ten runners were also setting new fastest times. The combination of cooling air temperature, relatively warm track surface, and an improving sheen of rubber is bound to lead to quick times, certainly among those experienced drivers who know the track well.

There was still no sign of the RML Lola, but the Autocon had set a new best of 4:12.031, and was finally off the bottom of the grid. No change in LMP2, and most of the front-runners were back in the pits.

Eighteen minutes remaining, and David Brabham brought the Highcroft HPD back onto the track. Tommy Erdos and the RML Lola followed suit five minutes later, with time enough for three laps. Unfortunately, that sweet spot in the evening, when the track might offer its best, had faded by this time, and the chances of either car improving looked slim. Tommy managed a fastest first sector on his last lap, but the second was not one of his quickest, and the third encountered traffic. He took the chequered flag with a 3:44.971. It was his second-best time of the evening, but not enough to change the order

So the first of three qualifying sessions ended with no significant changes in LMP2 during the final hour:

  1. #42 Strakka Racing HPD: 3:36.168 (14th overall) No change
  2. #26 Highcroft HPD: 3:37.202 (17th overall) No change
  3. #40 Quifel ASM Ginetta Zytek: 3:41.968 (18th) No change
  4. #35 Oak Racing Pescarolo Judd: 3:42.399 (19th) No change
  5. #25 RML Lola HPD: 3:44.598 (21st) No change
  6. #29 Racing Box Lola Judd: 3:51.065 (22nd) No change
  7. #24 Oak Racing Pescarolo Judd: 3:52.730 (23rd) Time improvement and position
  8. #39 KSM Lola Judd: 3:52.972 (24th) No change
  9. #41 Bruichladdich Ginetta Zytek: 3:55.680 (26th) Time improvement and position
  10. #37 WR Salini Zytek: 3:55.818 (27th) Time improvement and position
  11. #28 Racing Performance Radical: 3:59.361 (28th) No change in time, but positions lost
  12. #38 Pegasus Norma: 4:03.784 (42nd)

If the weather holds, then we can expect more of the same tomorrow, but if the forecast for rain proves accurate, then today's dry session could, in theory, end up determining the final grid.

For additional images, please visit our dedicated Le Mans Gallery.

Le Mans 24 Hours 2010

Circuit de la Sarthe, Le Mans, France
June 9th 2010
Practice & First Qualifying












































































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























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


























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




















































































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