Mans 24 Hours 2008
Thursday Qualifying - June 12th 2008
to predictions, the weather was back to bright and sunny
for Thursday evening, although brief but heavy showers had
fallen mid-morning and threatened to spoil the day. The
qualifying session picked up much where Wednesday had concluded,
with an on-going battle in LMP1 for overall pole that seemingly
excluded Audi. The three Peugeots continued to eclipse the
best that Audi's three sets of drivers could manage, and
by an impressive margin. By the time the day was over, the
#8 Peugeot would have put pole beyond doubt with an unbelievable
best of 3:18.513 . . . although rumour has it that Sarrazin
suggested a 3:16 was possible. This comes after the ACO
announced, some little while ago now, that changes in the
regulations had been intended to restrict top speeds, and
pole should be held to around three-thirty.
the gap to the #9 Peugeot was a mere tenth, and the third
908 just 1.9 seconds behind that, the best that Audi could
do in response was a 3:23.847, some 5.3 seconds adrift of
pole. There were some smug Pugs in the pitlane after that,
although quite how they'll manage in the race has to be
seen, of course.
all this was catching the headlines in LMP1, there was a
similar situation unravelling in LMP2, although to a much
less marked extent. Tommy first out on track for RML, as
usual, and steadily upped the pace for the MG Lola EX265.
His best lap turned out to be a much more representative
3:40.027, and a significant improvement on the 3:44.188
he'd achieved on Wednesday. More significantly, it was third
quickest of the evening (in LMP2) and set on very second-hand
tyres and a full fuel load.
were plans to send Tommy out on qualifying tyres later in
the session, but for the first hour the intention was to
complete the race preparations and continue work on perfecting
the set-up. This was hampered by a series of incidents on
track - the first red flag coming with less than half an
hour completed when one of the Oreca LMP1 cars lost control
on the exit of the second Mulsanne Chicane, just before
the kink. The car hit the Armco heavily enough to cause
damage to the steelwork, and there was a delay of more than
ten minutes while the barriers were repaired.
quarter-to eight, the Lola coupé went off at the
first chicane, but was swiftly extracted from the gravel.
The JMP, Ben Aucott at the wheel, was less fortunate. The
Briton swept round the Dunlop Curve, much as Noda had on
Wednesday evening in the Kruse Lola, but the GT2 Ferrari
remained glued to the track. Unfortunately, heading backwards
end-on into the tyre wall at something close to 100 miles
an hour was not going to do the 430 much god. Once again,
the session was stopped.
took this as an opportunity to talk through possible adjustments
with Phil Barker, and the Brazilian remained strapped into
the cockpit while the team worked around him. He declared
that the balance of the car was generally very good indeed,
and while there was a slight tendency to understeer, Tommy
felt the car was comfortable to drive, and well suited to
the race ahead.
just gone eight, after a few minor tweaks, Tommy headed
out once more and completed a couple of re-installation
laps before returning to the pits again to confirm that
the adjustments had had the desired effect. The car was
refuelled, and for the first time, fitted with soft race
tyres. As far as Tommy was concerned, the car was perfect
now as it was, and his recommendation would be to leave
it exactly as it was. Yes, they could keep on tweaking it
here and there, but he felt sure that they'd achieved an
optimum set-up that would be ideal for the race. So, with
tanks full, Tommy headed away up the pitlane once again.
He didn't get far, fast.
Tommy released his finger off the pitlane rev-limited, he
reported poor speed pulling up the hill towards the Dunlop
Chicane. He pressed on. Heading over the hill, and then
down towards the Mulsanne, he confirmed a misfire, and it
was getting worse. He tried various cockpit adjustments,
but nothing made any difference. At a snail's pace (relatively
speaking) he made his way steadily around the track on what
he thought was just two cylinders. A 8:20, he arrived back
into the pitlane.
took just seconds to isolate the culprit - a faulty spark
plug. That was quickly replaced, although a thorough examination
was made of all the car's systems just to make sure that
nothing else had been contributing to the fault. The MG
was given a clean bill of health, and Tommy was just about
to leave when Stuart Hall made a rare driver error on the
run through the Esses, between the Dunlop Bridge and Tetre
Rouge, and crashed the Creation heavily into the barriers.
It was 8:32, and the red flags were out again.
else returned to the pitlane and waited there in expectation
of a resumption of the session in a matter of minutes. What
hadn't been made clear was the extent to which Hall's impact
had, once again, damaged the safety wall. Several cars had
eased out of their garages, and created a queue at the pit
exit, and Tommy was one of them. With the MG fitted with
proper qualifying tyres for the first time, and a modest
fuel load, he was going to be given the opportunity to better
his time. He never got it.
ten to nine the marshals at the pitlane exit started gesticulating
at the drivers in their cars, waiting expectantly. It soon
became clear that the session had been abandoned. Rick and
the crew sprinted along the pitlane to recover the MG, pushing
the car back down towards the #25's garage.
was an opportunity for the team to relax, snatch a bite
to eat, and discuss plans for the remaining two hours. "To
set 3:40 on used mediums and with a full tank of fuel is
simply awesome," said a visible enthused Phil Barker.
"Given a set of qualifiers and a low fuel load, a 37
or better would certainly be achievable." He confirmed
that the team had been making a number of detailed adjustments
during the previous two hours. "We made some chassis
adjustments and now feel that we have a very comfortable
race car - a car that our guys can drive for twenty-four
hours and know it won't bite them." With the session
ended early, the plans to attempt a qualifying run had been
dropped in favour of extended track-time for the other two
drivers. "Had we got out on qualifiers, we're sure
there was some significant time to come from the car, but
we're going to resist that temptation now. We'll just live
with what we've got."
start-time for the evening's second session was brought
forward by fifteen minutes, and re-scheduled for 9:45. Mike
Newton was strapped into the MG and sent out within moments
of the pitlane opening, and embarked on a lengthy run that
started with laps in the mid three-fifties, but became steadily
faster as the hour progressed, dipping into the 3:49s at
just after ten.
10:13 Mike was back in the pitlane. "It's getting dark
now," he said, "and I don't think I'll be going
any quicker today. I'm happy to get out on a high."
That 'high' was the fastest lap he's ever done of the Le
Mans circuit - faster even than during the very rapid test
for last year's race. This year, of course, Mike's one and
only lap was curtailed by rain. "Great effort Mike,
well done!" said Phil Barker.
left Andy Wallace to polish off the remainder of the session.
He headed out at 10:19, and was into the 3:50s straight
away, although Jos Verstappen had just set a new fastest
lap for LMP2 of 3:32.301, despite the gathering gloom.
five minutes Andy had dipped into the forty-sevens, and
then the sixes. His quickest, in full race trim, was a 3:46.754,
but then he came across a cluster of slower cars, and eased
back. Andy's task at this stage was to do a fuel-efficiency
run, and with instruction t keep on going until the low-level
warning lights came on, he pressed on relentlessly. A couple
of hiccups from the car as he swept through the Porsche
Curves confirmed that the flickering red light on the dashboard
was telling the truth, and at 11:06 he returned to the pitlane.
"The car feels really good," he said. "I'm
being a little bit more careful about where I brake today
(after his experiences on Wednesday) and I'm possibly a
bit early at the moment, but I'm creeping up yard by yard."
then sent Andy out for one last lap, to do some gear-change
checks, and then the MG was parked away for the night, job
final run had revealed something new about the circuit,
something that even Wallace hadn't encountered before in
19 previous races at Le Mans. "I found a new bump!"
he said. "I had all four wheels off the ground, and
I thought I was flying. I'd just come out of Tetre Rouge,
and had to cross lanes from the left to the right to go
round a GT2 Ferrari. It's not a line I'd normally have taken,
but when I hit that bump, it threw the whole car off the
ground. I won't be going there again!"
all the pre-race checks now completed, and the car very
much to the drivers' satisfaction, the team packed up for
the night, and the garage doors were shut even before the
chequered flag fell. Friday would be a busy day, so an early
night was on the cards.
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