Well, unfortunately, the battle between Audi and Toyota was short lived: the #8 Toyota was taken out by a Ferrari GTE-Am car – bringing out an extended safety car period for barrier repairs – and on the first lap of the ensuing green, the #7 Toyota tangled with the Delta Wing car. The #7 sustained damage that seemed to bring on an endlessly cascading series of troubles until the team threw in the towel. Audis are currently running 1-2-3 overall and in LMP1: the #1 and #2R18 e-trons first and second and the #4 R18 ultra third.
In LMP2, the #44 Starworks Motorsport HPD ARX 03b has a one lap lead over the #49 Oreca 03 Nissan of Pecom Racing.
In GTE-Pro, the Ferrari, Corvette, Aston Martin, Porsche battle has become Ferrari v. Aston Martin, as both Flying Lizard and Team Felbermayr-Proton are gone and the Corvettes are down to a single car that’s seven laps back. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari is currently in the lead, the #59 Luxury Racing Ferrari is second, and the #97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage V8 is third.
In GTE-Am, there is a tight battle ongoing between the #50 Larbre Competition Corvette and the #67 IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche.
Several interesting stories will be played out in the 24 Hours of Le Mans beginning 5:30 AM PT tomorrow:
LMP1 – Audi v. Toyota. The top three qualifying places are three different cars – two from Audi and one from Toyota. First of all, Toyota managed to qualify their brand new LMP1 TS030 Hybrid third on the grid at Le Mans within a year of launching the program. That alone is a fabulous achievement. The Toyota TS030 is a 3.4L V8 normally-aspirated petrol-powered hybrid prototype. The electric energy is stored in a massive capacitor which powers electric motors. Audi put its new R-18 e-tron quattro on pole with a lap time of 3:23.787 (driven by the same team that won last year’s race: Fassler/Lotterer/Treluyer.) The R-18 e-tron quattro is a 3.7L V6 turbo diesel hybrid prototype. The Audi stores its energy in an electric flywheel accumulator. So it’s Toyota v. Audi, petrol v. diesel, capacitor v. flywheel, massive underdog v. overwhelming favorite. A surprisingly nice story to replace the expected Audi v. Peugeot rematch that was dashed when Peugeot pulled out of the sport. Second on the grid is the Audi R-18 ultra, a car that is outwardly very similar to the 2011 Le Mans winner. The R-18 ultra is the latest version of the Audi turbo diesel LMP1 car. Spots four thru six on the grid are another Toyota TS030 Hybrid splitting another Audi R-18 e-tron and an R-18 ultra. I really hope the Toyotas demonstrate some remarkable reliability in their very first 24 hour race to make it interesting to the end.
Delta Wing Nissan – The experimental Delta Wing Nissan qualified about 19 seconds slower than the pole sitting Audi at 3:42.612, putting it about 2/3 of the way thru the LMP2 cars. The Delta Wing is being run by the experienced and successful Highcroft Racing outfit, and it will be very interesting to see how it fares. Although I cannot say that I am excited by its looks in the least, opinions on the Delta Wing have been favorable for the most part. I can understand how the Delta Wing could set a fast qualifying time, but I am eager to see how it does in real racing conditions.
GTE – once again, the GTE classes look to be outstanding, competitive battles. In GTE-Pro, the top three qualifiers are the Luxury Racing Ferrari 458 Italia, the Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage V8, and the Corvette Racing Corvette C6 ZR1. SoCal’s Patrick Long’s Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 RSR is seventh on the GTE-Pro grid. The Flying Lizard’s other Porsche 911 RSR car was the fastest GTE-Am qualifier. The Prospeed Competition Porsche 911 RSR is second, and the Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage V8 is third on the GTE-Am grid. So it’s Ferrari, Aston Martin, Corvette, and Porsche set to battle it out in the GTE classes.
Weather - Rain is forecast for Saturday, which adds another dimension to this grueling event. Man v. Nature.
Just two days until one of my top ‘bucket list’ events – the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s right up there with Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, and the Indy 500. Unfortunately Peugeot pulled out of sports car racing months ago, so the awaited re-re-match of Audi v Peugeot won’t happen, but it will be interesting to see how Toyota fares.
The GTE battles should be awesome once again. Corvette, Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Porsche all have competitive cars and teams.
For those looking to get up to speed on the pre-race situation – including class and team previews – head on over to Radio Le Mans and listen to some of their excellent podcasts. Also, the differences in driver classifications and how this relates to the GTE-Am and GTE-Pre classes can be a bit confusing. The folks at Radio Le Mans have posted a very clear and concise driver classification table here.