Racing hybrid cars is mainstream. Both Audi and Toyota proved this statement to be fact during the final two qualifying sessions for this year's 80th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race.
Audi's No. 1 R18 e-tron quattro hybrid LMP1 prototype sports car took pole position for this classic endurance race with its fast lap of 3:23.787, improving on last year's best qualifying lap (with a standard turbodiesel) by nearly two seconds.
The No. 1 car, shared by last year's winning trio of Lotterer, Fassler and Treluyer, beat the No. 3 R18 Ultra (3:24.078) of Gene, Dumas, Duval to secure Audi's seventh pole position at Le Mans--and second straight--by 0.291 seconds.
Lotterer raved about his experience with the electric quattro drive
: "The car was running like it was on rails--simply incredible. Clinching pole is a cool feeling but of course a lot can happen in the race. Our performance does show that we've got a strong car."
Duval, who was driving the No. 3 car would have liked "to have clinched the fastest time but the Audi R18 e-tron quatttro is simply a bit better here at Le Mans. They've been fast since the test day," he confirmed.
The gas-powered No. 8 Toyota TS030 hybrid starts inside the second row with its quick lap of 3:24.842 as all 56 cars battled in warm, dry conditions. Overcoming electrical problems--as did its No. 7 sister car that qualified fifth--Anthony Davidson set his best mark late in the final session and was just 1.055 seconds from pole. "I feel that we almost got everything possible from the car," Davidson said. "I did a good lap and I think we can be happy with what we achieved; I am going faster and faster, the car is nicely balanced and I feel comfortable with it."
The No. 2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro achieved fourth grid spot between the two Toyota hybrids while the second R18 Ultra lies sixth. Strakka Racing is first in the non-factory/non-hybrid "petrol class" with its HPD ARX-03a open car, followed by the pair of Rebellion Racing Lola/Toyota coupes and the Pescarolo Team's Dome/Judd coupe, which crashed early in the going.
In LMP2, ADR/Delta's No. 25 Oreca/Nissan led all comers with its lap of 3:38.181 to qualify 14th overall, leading the Oak Racing No. 24 Morgan/Judd and No. 26 Signatech Nissan in class. The best LMGTE Pro car is the Luxury Racing No. 59 Ferrari 458 Italia, 34th overall, with the No. 97 Aston Martin Vantage V8 second and Corvette Racing's NO. 74 C6.R third in class. Flying Lizard Motorsport's No. 79 Porsche 911 RSR earned top spot in LMGTE Am competition at 39th overall.
The prime thrust for the No. 0 Nissan DeltaWing was to get its three drivers qualified during night practice and to prepare for the race, the team choosing deliberately not to set a quick speed, intending to find a proper race pace. The Highcroft Racing machine starts a credible 29th for the twice-around-the-clock classic.
Friday is dedicated to engine changes for nearly all the teams as service life is usually 30 hours and this is, after all, a 24-hour race. Then the engineers and mechanics will button up the car in preparation for Saturday morning's warmup session and for the 24-hour task at hand. The drivers take part in a traditional parade through downtown in the evening and then it's time for final good sleep of the week and the excitement this Le Mans race always brings.