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Peugeot, BMW Top First Qualifying At Le Mans

| , RacinToday.com Thursday, June 9 2011

BMW had a big day in the first round of qualifying at Le Mans. (Photo courtesy of the American Le Mans Series)


Le Mans, France – Preparations for this weekend’s 79th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans began Wednesday with four hours of free practice, followed by the first of three, two-hour qualifying sessions.

BMW’s two M3 GTs opened the German marque’s push for a victory with the best time in the GTE Pro class during the first qualifying session, which ran from 10 p.m. to midnight on the famed 8.5-mile circuit. Andy Priaulx turned a lap of 3:58.426 in the No. 56 BMW he will share with Joey Hand and Dirk Müller – teammates for BMW Team Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón.

The three were class winners during the 59th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida in March and are intent on winning sports car racing’s crown jewel. A pair of two-hour qualifying sessions are scheduled for Thursday beginning at 7 p.m. French time (1 p.m. EDT). The final session again will run from 10 p.m. to midnight.

At the head of the grid, Stephane Sarrazin laid down a late flyer to take the overall provisional pole position for Peugeot. The Frenchman turned a best lap of 3:27.033 in the Peugeot 908 he will share with Nic Minassian and Franck Montagny. Sarrazin went 0.906-seconds quicker than the quickest Audi R18 TDI driven by Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer.

Priaulx, meanwhile, was a half-second quicker than AF Corse’s Ferrari F458 Italia of Toni Vilander, Giancarlo Fisichella and Sebring class pole-winner Gimmi Bruni. The second BMW of Augusto Farfus, Jorg Müller and Dirk Werner sat third with all three cars within a second of each other.

Corvette Racing’s two Compuware Corvette C6.Rs were fourth and fifth in GTE Pro class Wednesday. The No. 74 Corvette of Jan Magnussen, Oliver Gavin and Richard Westbrook was the quickest of the two at 3:59.519, a little more than 0.1-seconds better than the sister car. Olivier Beretta was fifth at 3:59.633 in the No. 73 Corvette.

“Our objective here is not to win the pole; our objective is to develop a vehicle that can be raced comfortably and competitively by all three drivers in each car,” said Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing program manager. “Victory is our objective and that’s what we’re working toward.”

Spencer Pumpelly set the fastest time for Flying Lizard Motorsports in the GTE Am class. The Le Mans rookie turned a lap of 4:04.747 in the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR he will drive with Darren Law and Seth Neiman. Pumpelly was only 0.8-seconds off the provisional pole time of Larbre Competition’s Porsche.

Krohn Racing, GTE Am winner at Sebring with its Ferrari F430 GT, was fifth in class Wednesday at 4:05.856. Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson and Michele Rugolo are driving at Le Mans, just as they did at Sebring.

With the possibility of rain Thursday, Corvette Racing already has posted competitive qualifying times with both C6.Rs. And all six drivers have completed their required laps in darkness.

“We got in a good qualifying run for P4, and we’ll see what we can do to improve (Thursday),” Magnussen said. “Our competition is fast, but we still have some improvements to make. I think we have a car now that would do very well in the race. Judging by previous years and how the track changes, we’re in good shape, and we can still improve in small areas.”

Five-time Le Mans winner Beretta agreed that all went well out of the box for the No. 73 Corvette. “We worked through our to-do list and it all worked out fine,” Beretta said. “The setup improved throughout the session each time we changed something. There was a brief interruption with a red flag situation, but it didn’t upset our schedule at all. The track was still quite dirty in the beginning of the session, but it cleaned up pretty quickly. The car is exactly how it always is when we begin an event: nearly perfect.”

Gavin had a dramatic moment 90 minutes into the opening practice. “I had just started a timed lap and was going through the Esses when we had a problem with the power steering system,” Gavin said. “The car was fully loaded going down the hill, and I had to make a pretty big correction. I brought the car back to the pits, but driving slowly around Le Mans is pretty hairy _ those Prototypes go past very, very fast.

“But it’s great to be back at Le Mans in our cars. The circuit is a bit dirty, a little green, but felt pretty comfortable.”

American Tommy Milner turned his first laps at Le Mans in the No. 73 Corvette C6.R he is sharing with Beretta and Antonio Garcia.

“There wasn’t a big difference from the Larbre Competition Corvette that I drove during the Le Mans test in April, but it’s cool to be in the Corvette Racing C6.R,” said Milner, 25. “Now we’re focused on the task at hand. During my time in the car we made a really good change to improve the balance of the car, so we’ve found a direction to take and we’re definitely making progress. We just have to keep at it and get the car as comfortable as we can.”

Garcia said he will continue to concentrate on figuring out traffic with the faster Prototypes. “The most important thing is to get a consistent and comfortable car. Now we’ll analyze the data and fine-tune the setup,” Garcia said.

“We’ve definitely got something to build on,” said Westbrook, third driver in the No. 74 Corvette C6.R. “The track is changing all the time, so we have to react to that. We have a very good baseline car, and I think all three of the drivers and the engineers are confident that the small changes we make will improve things. There are no major issues, so it’s just the fine-tuning to react to the change in the track.”

The 24 Hours of Le Mans will start Saturday at 3 p.m. local time (9 a.m. EDT). SPEED will televise the race live, supplemented by live online video streaming at www.speedtv.com/corvette. Check local listings for broadcast times.

Wednesday’s 24 Hours of Le Mans GTE Pro provisional top-10 qualifying times:

Position/Car No./Drivers/Car/Time

1. (56) Priaulx/Muller/Hand, BMW M3 GT, 3:58.426

2. (51) Fisichella/Bruni/Vilander, Ferrari F458 Italia, 3:58.989

3. (55) Farfus/Muller/Werner, BMW M3 GT, 3:59.321

4. (74) Gavin/Magnussen/Westbrook, Corvette C6.R, 3:59.519

5. (73) Beretta/Milner/Garcia, Corvette C6.R, 3:59.633

6. (59) Ortelli/Makowiecki/Melo, Ferrari F458 Italia, 3:59.901

7. (75) Goossens/Holzer/van Lagen, Porsche 997 GT3 RSR, 3:59.962

8. (77) Lieb/Lietz/Henzler, Porsche 997 GT3 RSR, 3:59.998

9. (89) Farnbacher/Simonsen/Keen, Ferrari F458 Italia, 4:00.260

10. (79) Hancock/Dolan/Buncombe, Aston Martin Vantage, 4:00.747

| , RacinToday.com Thursday, June 9 2011
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