The pace quickened on Wednesday and Thursday with free practices, qualifying and the 24 Hours of Le Mans Hyperpole.
Nicolas Lapierre put Alpine Elf Endurance Team on row two of the grid with an exceptional lap in the Hyperpole.
The team completed its preparations by running 137 laps – almost 1900 kilometers - of the Circuit de la Sarthe over both days.
The sun came out progressively in Wednesday's first free practice session at the Circuit de la Sarthe despite a brief rain shower before the pit lane opened.
André Negrão began the team's programme, checking the various systems and running in the mechanical and electronic components of the Alpine A480. The crew completed 30 laps despite a slow lap due to a faulty wheel nut.
Two hours later, the pace quickened in qualifying. Nicolas Lapierre clocked a first reference time of 3:32.634s before improving to 3:30.563s. The Frenchman went back out on new tyres and lowered his time to 3:29.656s. After a red flag caused by a driver in the GTE Am category running off the track, the wind and the first drops of rain appeared and took away any chance for the competitors to improve.
With its Hyperpole spot secured, the trio continued their preparations, putting in 29 more laps during the first night session of the week in Le Mans, during which André Negrão, Mathieu Vaxiviere and Nicolas Lapierre found their bearings in total darkness.
Given the top speed deficit of the Alpine A480 compared to its rivals, the stewards decided on Thursday to fine-tune the balance of performances by allowing an extra 7 kW to the French prototype. The technical team approached the third free practice session with new parameters to understand just a few hours before the Hyperpole.
Nicolas Lapierre was on a frantic hunt for a fast lap as soon as the pit lane opened at 8 pm, and his first lap was not allowed due to a track limit infringement. Not about to throw in the towel, the Frenchman was third in 3:26.568s before putting on new tyres. Back on track, Nicolas Lapierre exploited the full potential of the Alpine A480 to improve to 3:24.850s, which was good enough for the provisional pole before the Toyotas deprived him of a row one starting position by only 0.022s at the very end of the session. However, Nicolas Lapierre's exceptional performance will see the Alpine Elf Endurance Team start from third place on the grid.
The team's preparations concluded with a final practice run until midnight. The trio used this last session to finish adjusting their automatisms, work on the long stints in preparation for the race and carry out a new sweep of checks in many areas.
After the drivers' parade in the city centre on Friday evening, the team will take part in a 15-minute warm-up Saturday morning before Nicolas Lapierre gets behind the wheel of the #36 Alpine A480 for the start of the 90th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours at 4 pm.
"I had a blast on that lap! It's always special when you have the chance to drive on this track on new tyres, without traffic and with a light car. The team did a fantastic job in giving me an extremely well-balanced prototype. I truly enjoyed myself, especially as I was able to use a little slipstreaming on my best run. It was an amazing lap and a result we didn't even dare to dream of this morning. However, we know qualifying is not representative of the race, and we must keep working hard till Sunday evening."
Philippe Sinault, Alpine Elf Endurance Team Principal
"It's an excellent result, which is due in no small part to Nicolas' exceptional ability to transcend himself at the most important moments. I'm also pleased because we got back into the game with a tighter than ever Hypercar field. The adjustment to the balance of performances allowed the various prototypes to run within less than two seconds on a track of more than 13 kilometres. This is fantastic news for the show, and underlines that the matter was handled correctly The track limit infringements influenced the end of the session as no one was spared. However, we shouldn't jump to conclusions or draw any inferences for the race, but this performance is good for team morale."
Toyota Gazoo Racing n°8 3:24.408s
Toyota Gazoo Racing n°7 +0.420s
Alpine Elf Endurance Team n°36 +0.442s
Scuderia Glickenhaus Racing n°709 +1.433s
Scuderia Glickenhaus Racing n°708 +1.951s
Saturday 11 June
10:30-10:45 am: Warm-up
4 pm: Start of the 90th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans