at 76th Le Mans 24 Hours
The Aston Martin Racing team has enjoyed a successful final qualifying session for the 76th Le Mans 24 Hours, which will get underway at 3pm on Saturday 14 June.
This evening witnessed the second of two sessions – following on from the first qualifying period yesterday – to determine the places on the grid for the endurance classic.
After tonight’s four hours of running, the 009 and 007 cars will line up fourth and fifth on the GT1 grid respectively when the French tricolour drops on Saturday to mark the start of the race. In 009, Antonio Garcia set the quickest lap of 3m48.994s, while Andrea Piccini was fastest in the 007 car with a time of 3m49.060s.
It was also a highly-successful evening for the Aston Martin-powered LMP1 prototype entered by Charouz Racing System, which was the fastest petrol-engined car qualifying in sixth overall on its Le Mans debut.
Despite some heavy rain showers during the afternoon, tonight’s qualifying periods – from 7pm to 9pm and 10pm to midnight – were dry and consistent. Both the car crews worked at refining the overall race set-up throughout the evening, and by the end of the session they were all confident that the two Gulf-liveried DBR9s had a good race pace and sufficiently versatile settings to prepare for the unpredictable rigours of the 24-hour race.
Heinz-Harald Frentzen (D): “We’re getting into the right rhythm now. It really helped that we had consistent track conditions today, as the conditions we had during the test day were not enough for us to get a proper idea of where we were at. Now we have a much better idea and I’m very encouraged. The car felt very nice, and I think we’re in really good shape.”
Andrea Piccini (I): “We did a lot of really useful work tonight and now we have the car as we want it. Although it was the final qualifying session, it was a lot more important to concentrate on finding the best race set-up that will work well over 24 hours rather than just a few laps. I think we achieved that, so I’m just looking forward to getting the race started now.”
Karl Wendlinger (A): “I had a good feeling with the car from the start of the first session yesterday, and that hasn’t really changed. Today was more a question of refinement work, just evolutions rather than any big revolutions – which is always a positive sign. I feel that I know the car quite well now, so we are as well-prepared as we can be.”
David Brabham (AUS): “We made a few quite important changes to the set-up at the rear of the car today, which was a great benefit. It was an idea that we had considered previously, and in race conditions – which is what we were simulating today – it seemed to work well. The sort of car that you need to run a strong race is not necessarily the same as an ideal car for qualifying: I think we’re in a good position.”
Antonio Garcia (E): “I had a good feeling with the car, but I got a bit of traffic on my quickest lap so I still think that we could have gone quicker. The car felt fine, although we steadily made a few improvements to counteract a bit of nervousness. In the end we weren’t pushing too hard to set the times, which is a very good sign.”
Darren Turner (GB): “I’m happy: we worked through everything that we needed to and had no problems at all. We were aiming to have a car that felt similar to the one we had in the race last year, which was really solid and planted. We maybe started off with a car that was on the safe side, but I think we’ve ended up with a really good compromise.”
Stefan Mücke (D), who set the Aston Martin-powered LMP1 prototype’s sixth-fastest time, commented: “The time was a good one, although it just came to me rather than being the result of a particularly big effort. The best thing about it is that our time is genuinely indicative of our race pace; we weren’t using a special qualifying set-up. That’s a very positive sign for the future.
Two privately-entered DBR9s also took part in the first qualifying session, entered by Team Modena and Vitaphone Racing. Team Modena’s car, number 59, will start the car eighth on the GT1 grid, while the number 53 car of Vitaphone will start ninth.
Aston Martin Racing Team Principal George Howard-Chappell commented: “Overall it’s been a very pleasing qualifying session. We’re particularly pleased with the qualifying session from Stefan Mücke. The LMP1 team had quite a difficult time getting dialled into Le Mans but to split the Audis was a great achievement. On the GT1 front we’re exceptionally pleased with our race set-up and pace, and now I feel that we are very well-prepared for the epic battle due to start on Saturday.”
On Friday all the Aston Martin drivers will take part in the traditional drivers’ parade through the streets of Le Mans.