Audi R15 TDI on front row for Le Mans début image

* Allan McNish claims second on the grid for Audi
* All three Audi R15 TDI on first four rows
* Audi Sport Team Joest uses qualifying to prepare for race

Although Audi Sport Team Joest concentrated exclusively on preparing for the race throughout qualifying for the 77th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, one of the three Audi R15 TDI starts from the front row for the French endurance classic on Saturday at 3:00 p.m.

After it rained during free practice on Wednesday, the Audi team used Thursday evening’s qualifying solely for car set-up and tyre testing. During the four hour session last year’s winners Dindo Capello (Italy), Tom Kristensen (Denmark) and Allan McNish (Scotland) completed a quadruple stint on a single set of Michelin tyres in the Audi R15 TDI with the start number “1” and thus collected important findings about tyre wear.

Only in the dying seconds towards the end of the first part of qualifying did Allan McNish make an attempt on fresh tyres. In doing so he recorded a 3m 23.650s lap which proved to be almost unbreakable for the competition for the majority of the second qualifying session. Only after several attempts on fresh tyres did Stéphane Sarrazin, in the fastest Peugeot, manage to eclipse the time set by McNish by 0.762 seconds just twelve minutes before the end of qualifying.

“For us, today was all about finding the optimum race set-up and to collect as much data as possible with our new car around the Le Mans race track,” explained Head of Audi Motorsport Dr Wolfgang Ullrich. “The grid positions for a 24-hour race do not directly affect the final result. That Allan (McNish) managed to secure a position on the front row while working through the program demonstrates just how much potential the R15 TDI has.”

Lucas Luhr, Mike Rockenfeller and Marco Werner also only undertook a single qualifying attempt. Around midnight Marco Werner posted a time of 3m 25.780s which secured sixth place on the grid for the Audi R15 TDI with the start number “2”.

The three Germans were assigned the task of comparing different aerodynamic configurations in the first part of qualifying. For this purpose their Audi R15 TDI was equipped with special data-logging suspension, which was changed as scheduled between the two qualifying sessions. Since the break was reduced from 60 to 35 minutes because the schedule was changed at short notice, Luhr Rockenfeller and Werner could only continue qualifying later. Changing a turbocharger cost further time.

The third Audi team with German Timo Bernhard and the two Frenchmen Romain Dumas and Alexandre Prémat made no qualifying attempt whatsoever. They concentrated on tyre tests and will start the race on Saturday from seventh on the grid. Alexandre Prémat set the fastest time of 3m 27.106 s immediately at the beginning of qualifying.

The fastest ten cars on Thursday evening were all within about five seconds – this much time separated the fastest Peugeot from the quickest Audi in qualifying last year. This time the difference around the 13.629-kilometre track is less than one second.

The two Audi R10 TDI fielded by the privateer team Kolles qualified in 13th and 14th positions.

This weekend Audi has the chance of taking a ninth overall victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and to draw level with Ferrari in the race’s all time winners list.

The starting grid at Le Mans

1 Sarrazin/Montagny/Bourdais (Peugeot) 3m 22.888s
2 Capello/Kristensen/McNish (Audi R15 TDI) + 0.762s
3 Minassian/Lamy/Klien (Peugeot) + 1.972s
4 Boullion/Pagenaud/Treluyer (Peugeot) + 2.174s
5 Gene/Wurz/Brabham (Peugeot) + 2.364s
6 Luhr/Rockenfeller/Werner (Audi R15 TDI) + 2.892s
7 Bernhard/Dumas/Premat (Audi R15 TDI) + 4.218s
8 Charouz/Enge/Mücke (Aston Martin) + 4.292s
9 Davidson/Turner/Verstappen (Aston Martin) + 4.816s
10 Belicchi/Jani/Prost (Aston Martin) + 5.246s

13 Albers/Bakkerud/Mondini (Audi R10 TDI) + 8.304s
14 Karthikeyan/Lotterer/Zwolsman (Audi R10 TDI) + 8.660s

Quotes after qualifying at Le Mans

Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich (Head of Audi Motorsport): “Today we didn’t really concentrate on going for times. Instead it was a very intensive day’s work for the mechanics. Between the two segments of qualifying we fitted all the parts planned for the race to the cars, which then had to be adjusted. This cost quite some time. Afterwards we drove very good long-runs on slicks and were able to prepare ourselves well for the race. It’s a good sign that we were still able to fight so closely for pole position in the process.”

Dindo Capello (Audi R15 TDI #1): “I hope the fans will be party to a race equally as exciting as qualifying was. However, I would still like to swap positions at the head of the field. It’s difficult to assess the relative strengths after qualifying because you just don’t know with which tyres and which set-up the competition were running today. Nevertheless, I’m still not entyrely satisfied with our car, which is why we have a lot of work to do before race day. But I know that I can rely on the engineers and mechanics.”

Tom Kristensen (Audi R15 TDI #1): “I’d like to have had a few more laps in the R15 TDI today. But my engineer said that I had already driven here so often and should rather concentrate on the essential things. So, towards the end of qualifying I drove the fourth stint on a used set of tyres, which brought us extremely useful information for the race. Our target was to find a set-up which allows us to drive as long as possible on a single set of tyres but to be quick at the same time. We only made one attempt to put in a quick lap – Allan (McNish) used this opportunity perfectly in the ideal conditions towards the end of the first session with a little diesel in the tank.”

Allan McNish (Audi R15 TDI #1): “In fact we really should be very pleased with our performance. The weather conditions were tricky yesterday, which is why we had to work through a large programme during the four hour qualifying session. We wanted to understand the tyres better on this track and to find out how the track conditions change. We also had to set-up the car. The battle with Sarrazin at the end was a lot of fun. The reality is that its only about the balance for the race. We still have room for improvement. We work closely together with the crews of the other cars in the Audi team and see all the data so that everything is just right on Saturday at 3.00 p.m.”

Lucas Luhr (Audi R15 TDI #2): “I hope that all the problems you can have are now behind us. We drove by far the least amount of laps when compared to the others. Due to a problem with the car we were unable set-up the car as we wanted in qualifying. This isn’t so bad, these things do happen. Unfortunately we lost time in the pits again in second qualifying. I now hope that we can have a trouble free race. The Audi R15 TDI is good. Unfortunately we didn’t get any set-up work done. We’ll probably have to copy the set-up of one of the other cars.”

Mike Rockenfeller (Audi R15 TDI #2): “Unfortunately qualifying didn’t go well for our car. Several small problems meant that we didn’t drive very much, couldn’t try very much and are now sixth. This obviously doesn’t influence the race but we hoped for more. We would have particularly liked to have driven more and would like to have tested more.”

Marco Werner (Audi R15 TDI #2): “We know what the car is capable of, but with us there is a problem somewhere and our car had too much push at the start. I don’t think that I’ve ever started a race at Le Mans in a new car with so few laps under my belt. In qualifying I only got two timed laps. I only got involved in the action fifteen minutes before the end. On top of this came the fact that the floodlight in the Porsche Curves was switched off in the last two laps. To drive this car for the first time in the night and to run through such a dark section made things very difficult. Even though we improved the time I wasn’t able to make up any positions on the grid.”

Timo Bernhard (Audi R15 TDI #3): “I feel at home in the Audi R15 TDI. Qualifying was not the focus of our attention today, we didn’t even bother investing in a new set of tyres to go for a time. Romain (Dumas) and I are two newcomers in the car, which is why, for us, it was all about completing as many kilometres as possible. This also explains the seventh position, with which I am nevertheless pleased. After all seven is my lucky number, because I won two championships in the USA with this number.”

Romain Dumas (Audi R15 TDI #3): “For our car its wasn’t at all about qualifying. Alexandre (Prémat) drove the first outing, then Timo (Bernhard). I started into the night immediately at the beginning of the second half of qualifying. The goal was simple, to complete as many laps as possible to get used to the car because I hadn’t run in the dry beforehand. Of course it wasn’t easy to do this in the darkness. I drove a complete stint, and it went very well.”

Alexandre Prémat (Audi R15 TDI #3): “Our approach was very simple: We didn’t run with new tyres or drive with low fuel. We weren’t so bad on a single lap, but other laws apply at the 24 hours. We didn’t even start a single serious qualifying attempt, but in fact prepared exclusively for the race. Seventh on the grid for a 24-hour race in meaningless. I’m really happy that the other two drivers have acclimatized themselves well with the car and track – they were really fast during both the day and night. We have a very good drive line-up for this 24-hour race.”

Ralf Jüttner (Technical Director Audi Sport Team Joest): “Today we packed as much work into qualifying as we normally distribute on a test day and could complete in free practice. The main focus of attention was the work with the tyres, which is why we drove so many long-runs. Fast qualifying times were effectively of minor importance for us. So much the better that Allan (McNish) managed such a fantastic lap. However, we were well aware that there would be a reply. But we accept this, congratulate the competition and continue to concentrate on our logical preparation before the start of the race.”