Photo courtesy Audi Motorsport
However, tt has substantially revised the race-winning LMP1 design, calling it the R18 Ultra and presented two of that type, together with a brace of R18 e-tron quattro coupes that rely on both TDI and battery technology to achieve both great speed and exceptional economy.
Both cars are substantially lightened from the vehicles they replace in competition.
During the first four-hour qualifying practice for the Saturday-Sunday 80th edition of this classic race around the nearly 8.5 miles of country roads and bespoke circuit, the No. 1 Audi e-tron quattro driven by Andre Lotterer, Maurice Fassler and Benoit Treluyer was the fastest car after all was said and done at 3:25.452. Their time beat last year's pole position time by .028 seconds, while the No. 2 Audi e-tron quattro of Tom Kristensen, Dindo Capello and Allan McNish was second at 3:26.536, their speed being set early in the session.
"On the whole we had a very productive day," said Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, head of Audi Motorsport. "Finding a good setup for the unusually cool temperatures in the night session wasn't easy because the grip level on the track was pretty low. In the end," he commented, "we managed that quite well on new tires. I do think, though, that even faster times will be driven tomorrow."
The first of the Audi R18 Ultra TDI race cars sits third with Romain Dumas, Loic Duval and Marc Gene handling the driving duties at 3:26.494, joined by the Toyota TS030 hybrid of Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima at 3:27.191. The second R18 Ultra lies fifth after this session with the second Toyota TS030 hybrid in sixth.
"In terms of performance we appear to be on a reasonable level and this its our expectations following the test day," said Yoshiaki Kinoshita, Toyota Racing team president. "Unfortunately we lost the practice session for the No. 9 car due to an engine failure, which is the first time we have suffered this problem. This looks like a one-off problem. Finally, a minor hybrid system error prevented Alex finishing his stint, which is frustrating."
Kinoshita was also quick to note that the Toyota has not yet completed a full 24-hour simulation.
Honors in the gasoline-fueled LMP1 field goes to the Strakka Racing HPD ARX03a at 3:32.750, followed by the pair of Rebellion Racing Lola/Toyota cars, with the Pescarolo Team's Dome/Judd completing the top 10.
In LMP2 the Oreca/Nissan continues to be best in this World Endurance Championship class with the Thriet by TDS Racing team on top at 3:39.252, with the similar Murphy Prototypes car second and Starworks Motorsports's HPD ARX03b third in the P2 class.
The Corvette C6.R No. 74 was quickest in the GTE Pro class as the team looks for a second straight victory in class. Oliver Gavin's lap of 3:55.910 had him elated with the results; he's 33rd overall in the 56-car entry. Luxury Racing's Ferrari 458 Italia was second and the second Corvette C6.R took third place.
While it won't be classified in the race, the Nissan DeltaWing was 26th overall, thereby meeting creator Ben Bowlby's expectations of running in the midst of the LMP2 field (or better); Michael Krumm set the car's quick time of 3:42.612 while all three drivers did their requisite five laps in order to run the race.
American NASCAR driver Brian Vickers, driving for AF Corse/Michael Waltrip in a Ferrari 458 Italia was only 52nd, but summed up his first Le Mans experience neatly in a late-night tweet: "This is nuts! No track lights. Head lights suck. Driving through woods on a street road at 170 mph while racing other cars with no spotters!"
Yes, Brian, that's Le Mans.