Dress rehearsal for the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans

The dress rehearsal for the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans which took place this Sunday, 3rd June was an out-and-out success as far as both spectators and teams were concerned. The majority of competitors present were here to prepare for the race which will take place on the 16/17th June.

Set two weeks before the 80th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Test Day was a fantastic appetiser for the main course, and 23,000 spectators were present this Sunday to enjoy it. They were able to feast on the quality of the sights and sounds produced by the 61 cars on track. In the LMP1 category, the Audis showed themselves to be quickest, the two R18 e-tron Quattro hybrids Nos. 2 and 1 heading the No. 3 R18 Ultra. Allan McNish, the quickest man of the day (3m25.927) ended his test following a small error which saw him hitting the barriers at the Tertre Rouge corner and being unable to continue.

Much anticipated, the Toyota TS030 Hybrid didn’t disappoint on their first outing against their adversaries, occupying 4th and 5th places. The best, driven by Alexander Wurz (3m 27.204) being only 1.3 seconds off the best time of the Audi. They made their presence known. And McNish noted, “The Toyotas amazed me. At top speed they were really much quicker than us!”

It should be noted that the No. 21 Honda HPD was the speediest of the LMP1 cars with ‘classic’ petrol engines, thanks to Danny Watts. With its two cars, the No. 17 Dome-Judd and the Pescarolo 03, the Pescarolo team struggled a little more as the team was coming to terms with little preparation time and was working towards its race, but its performance was encouraging.

Another incident of note was a big off-track excursion this morning for the No. 15 Oak Racing, hitting the guard rails at the Karting corner. Guillaume Moreau, the driver, was extracted from the car and then driven to the CHU d’Angers hospital. The young Frenchman is being operated on for injuries to his 12th vertebra.

Oak Racing showed its hand in LMP2. The No. 35 Morgan-Judd entered by the French team was the quickest in both the morning and afternoon sessions, Olivier Pla being the driver achieving the best time (3m41.291) ahead of the HPD Honda of the American Level 5 Motorsports team and the Jota Zytek Z11SN Nissan. Sebastien Loeb Racing, which isn’t entered for the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans, notched up the 5th best time in this class and it was Loeb himself who set the mark at 3m 42.248.As usual, it was a great battle in LM GTE. In the class reserved for Professional drivers, it was the No. 59 Ferrari 458 of Frederic Makowiecki which was quickest but less than a tenth of a second ahead of the No. 74 Corvette. As for GTE-Am, Aston Martin Racing put itself in the spotlight with its Vantage V8, Allan Simonsen at the wheel and launched himself right into the middle of the GTE Pro pack.

Today’s Test Day was also the chance to at last see on track the Nissan Delta Wing, albeit non-classified. Remember that this futuristic car will run in the 24 Hours of Le Mans under the banner of the 56th Pit Box, but will not be classified. The Scotsman Marino Franchitti, who set a time of 3m47.980, was thrilled. “It was a perfect demonstration,” he explained. « No mechanical problems, easy to drive. It was very encouraging for the race and we know in which direction to go in order to gain performance.”

As for the Formula Le Mans, it was a great promotion to encourage people into endurance racing, even if they can’t be entered for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Two were on track and the young Frenchman Steven Palette was the quickest at 3m 56.496. At the wheel of the second was a certain Fabien Barthez. The former French goalkeeper achieved a quick lap of 4m06.906.

So all is in place for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In one week the technical scrutineering will begin, and the 80th running of this mythical race is scheduled for 16th/17th June.

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