There were times during the past days of qualifying when it looked like Audi might own the first two rows of the starting grid for this weekend's 24 Hours of Le Mans. The R18 e-tron quattro hybrid cars were running the quickest lap times, with the two diesel R18 Ultras following close behind. The two Toyota TS 030 hybrid cars were also quick, but it seemed they were always nipping at the heels of an Audi's lap time, much like the Audis used to trail the faster Peugeots during qualifying for Le Mans races of the recent past. And we all know how that usually ended for Peugeot.
So when the third and final qualifying session ended last evening, we were surprised to learn the starting grid had ended up as anything but expected. An Audi will have pole position, and a hybrid car at that, which marks the first time such a powertrain has earned the honor. The No. 1 R18 e-tron quattro beat all comers with a fastest lap of 3:23.787, nearly two seconds quicker than last year's pole.
Next to the first R18 e-tron quattro will be another R18, but not a hybrid. The No. 3 R18 Ultra will be starting second, followed by the No. 8 Toyota TS030 hybrid starting third, the other R18 e-tron quattro starting fourth, the No. 7 Toyota TS030 hybrid starting fifth and the final R18 Ultra starting sixth. So not a single car of the quickest six will start next to its twin, which suggests that none of the three powertrain technologies has a lock on leading the race.
In LMP2, the No. 25 Oreca Nissan led the field with a fastest lap of 3:38.181, followed closely by the No. 24 Oak Racing Morgan Judd and then four more Oreca Nissans. The Nissan DeltaWing, racing in an experimental class of its own, wound up near the back of the LMP2 field with a fastest lap of 3:42.612 set on the first day of qualifying.
The GTE Pro class promises to be as exciting as ever this year, with the pole being led by the No. 71 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia, which recorded a particularly quick lap of 3:56.484 during the final qualifying session. The Ferrari will be followed by Aston Martin Racing's No. 97 Vantage V8 and the first of two Corvette Racing C6 ZR1s.
Lastly, the GTE Am class will be lead by the No. 79 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 RSR with a leading lap time of 3:57.594, followed by another 911 from Prospeed Competition and the No. 99 Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage.
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