Just over an hour ago, we arrived at the Circuit de la Sarthe for the 77th running of the 24 Hours of LeMans, and judging by the competitors, the track and the weather, the 2009 event has all the potential – if not more – than last year's race.
If you've been following the news in the lead-up to the enduro, you're aware of the controversies surrounding the LMP1 front runners – Audi and Peugeot – specifically the newly instituted regulations for diesel prototypes and the protests from Peugeot about Audi's front wing.
After the Sebring 12 hour race, the ACO (the governing body of LeMans) instituted a fuel fill limiter on all the diesel entrants, reducing the nozzle size from 38 mm to 33 mm (the same as the gasoline-powered entrants). Additionally, the ACO has required 30 kg (66 pounds) of ballast be added to the three Audis and four Peugeots, but it hasn't done much to quell diesel's dominance.
During qualifying, the #8 Peugeot 908 HDI-FAP driven by Sarrazin took the pole with a 3:22.888 lap. They were followed by the #1 Audi R15 of Capello, Kristensen and McNish just 0.762 seconds behind, with the #7, #17 and #9 Peugeots taking the third, fourth and fifth slots, respectively, and the two R15s coming in sixth and seventh. Assuaging the fears of Audi faithful, Marco Werner simply said, "Grid position is not important [at LeMans]" – something that was all too apparent in 2008.
When asked about Peugeot's accusations about a non-spec aerodynamic aid, the Audi crew appeared unperturbed by the issue, with Tom Kristensen throwing it back in Peugeot's face, saying "You never heard a word from us last year when we were five seconds behind. We were focusing on the race and that's what we're doing this year."
Jurgen Pippig, Audi AG's head of motorsport communications, also had some choice words for the ACO regarding the new regulations implemented on diesels. At the Audi press conference, Pippig said the new rules were "very problematic" and "highly irresponsible" given both the short amount of time the team had to adapt and the expense of these changes during the economic climate.
Politics aside, the field of competitors is stronger than ever, although Aston Martin's placement at the bottom of the LMP1 field comes as a disappointment to its leagues of fans. When we asked Alan McNish about his thoughts on the Aston team he was cautious about their performance and potential. "Aston are a quiet force," McNish told us, but "we didn't see their ultimate performance in qualifying."
Yesterday's top ten qualifiers in each class are posted below and if the Internet allows, we'll be updating our Twitter feed during the race and penning periodic updates throughout the weekend. Later this evening, we'll be attending the driver's parade and plan to have plenty of pics from one of the weekend's highlight events. In the meantime, check out the stellar LeMans Spotters Guide by Andy Blackmore Design courtesy of Fourtitude and SpeedTV, along with coverage from our sibling sites, Autoblog UK and Autoblog Germany.
1 - 8 Team Peugeot Total, SARRAZIN Stephane - 3'22.888
2 - 1 Audi Sport Team Joest, KRISTENSEN Tom - 3'23.650
3 - 7 Team Peugeot Total, MINASSIAN Nicolas - 3'24.860
4 - 17 Pescarolo Sport, TRELUYER Benoit - 3'25.062
5 - 9 Peugeot Sport Total, GENE Marc - 3'25.252
6 - 2 Audi Sport North America, WERNER Marco - 3'25.780
7 - 3 Audi Sport Team Joest, BERNHARD Timo - 3'27.106
8 - 007 AMR Eastern Europe, CHAROUZ Jan - 3'27.180
9 - 008 Aston Martin Racing, TURNER D - 3'27.704
10 - 13 Speedy Racing Sebah, BELICCHI Andrea - 3'28.134
1 - 31 Team Essex, POULSEN Kristian - 3'37.720
2 - 5 Navi Team Goh, KUNIMOTO Keisuke - 3'37.802
3 - 33 Speedy Racing Sebah, KANE Jonny - 3'41.724
4 - 25 RML, ERDOS Tommy - 3'41.952
5 - 40 Quifel ASM Team, AMARAL Miguel - 3'42.012
6 - 30 Racing Box. BIAGI Thomas - 3'42.848
7 - 41 G.A.C. Racing Team, GOSSELIN Claude-Yves - 3'44.830
8 - 35 OAK Racing. AJLANI Karim - 3'45.032
9 - 32 Team Barazi Epsilon, BARAZI Juan - 3'52.956
10 - 39 KSM, DE POURTALES Jean - 3'53.072
1 - 63 Corvette Racing, MAGNUSSEN Jan - 3'54.230
2 - 64 Corvette Racing, GAVIN Olivier - 3'54.702
3 - 66 Jetalliance Racing Gmbh, MULLER Alex - 3'56.126
4 - 72 Alphand Aventures, ALPHAND Luc - 3'57.170
5 - 73 Alphand Aventures, CLAIRAY Yan - 3'58.564
6 - 68 JLOC, YAMAGISHI Yutaka - 4'21.812