Audi drew first blood in the opening practice session for this weekend's 2011 Le Mans 24 Hours – the 79th edition of the round-the-clock La Sarthe classic – as defending race-winner Mike Rockenfeller put the #1 Audi Sport Team Joest R18 TDi at the top of the timesheets...but there was, in truth, little to choose between the German manufacturer and fellow powerhouse Peugeot.
'Rocky' became the first driver to dip beneath the 3m28s barrier in the four-hour session's dying moments, joining team-mate André Lotterer in breaking the erstwhile Peugeot hegemony at the head of the timing screens, with the two countrymen separated by just over three tenths of a second.
Local hero Sébastien Bourdais ultimately led the Peugeot charge in third – albeit half-a-second adrift of Rockenfeller's late flyer – with Alex Wurz putting the #7 908 fourth, narrowly ahead of Allan McNish in the third of the works Audis. The leading five cars all concluded the session blanketed by less than three-quarters of a second. The all-French #8 Peugeot wound up sixth, with the early pace-setting Oreca Peugeot seventh.
The first of the petrol entries – the #16 Pescarolo – was almost five seconds further in arrears still in eighth, making something of a mockery of the ACO's recent engine-equalisation regulations, with the Rebellion Racing Lola and the best-placed of the two Oak Racing machines rounding out the top ten. The two factory Aston Martin Racing AMR-Ones, meanwhile, languished in the region of 20 seconds shy of the outright pace, down in 21st and 24th places.
Strakka Racing set the pace in LMP2 – placing 15th overall – ahead of the Nissan-powered Team Oreca Matmut entry. LM GTE Pro was an all-BMW affair up at the front, the Augusto Farfus/Jörg Müller/Dirk Werner car pipping the sister machine piloted by Andy Priaulx/Dirk Müller/Joey Hand by just under four tenths of a second. Initial LM GTE Am honours went the way of the Gulf AMR Middle East Aston Martin Vantage.
The major drama of the session was suffered by Raymond Narac at the wheel of the #76 IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche 997 GT3 RSR, when – just over an hour into practice – the Frenchman went off at the Porsche Curves and backed the LM GTE Pro car heavily into the tyre barriers, leaving debris strewn across the track and bringing out the red flag.
There were other – albeit far less serious – issues for the Proton Competition Porsche 997 GT3 RSR, which Horst Felbermayr Jnr beached in the gravel trap with just over 20 minutes to go, whilst a rubbing tyre on Oliver Gavin's Corvette was the catalyst for brief flames beneath the wheel arch of the LM GTE Pro machine. There were punctures, finally, for the #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari, #71 AF Corse Ferrari and #79 Jota Aston Martin.
The first two-hour qualifying session will get underway at 10pm local time (9pm BST), but in the meantime, to see the full list of practice times, click here