Aston Martin Racing has confirmed that it will have three cars ready for the start of this year's Le Mans 24 Hours despite the quickest of its qualifiers ending Thursday's session in the barriers.
The #007 crew of Jan Charouz, Tomas Enge and Stefan Mücke suffered a setback to their preparations towards the end of qualifying, when Charouz went off at the second Mulsanne chicane and damaged the LMP1 machine. However, initial examinations following its return to the pits suggest that the chassis remains intact, and the team is endeavouring to make repairs and rebuild the car in time for the race's 3pm local time start on Saturday.
Qualifying for what will be the 77th Le Mans 24 Hours concluded over two sessions - between 7-9pm and 10pm-midnight - on Thursday evening, and allowed all runners to sample a dry track after a rain-affected free practice on Wednesday. With the diesel cars from Audi and Peugeot enjoying the expected margin of superiority, AMR's three factory entries will line up eighth, ninth and 17th, with the #007 taking team bragging rights before Charouz's shunt.
Mücke posted the quickest Aston Martin lap with a time of 3min 27.180secs, while the #008 car of Anthony Davidson, Darren Turner and Jos Verstappen - which had to be rebuilt following the Dutchman's crash in pre-race testing at Monza - one place further back on 3min 27.704secs. The #009 entry - driven by Stuart Hall, Peter Kox and Harold Primat proved to be some six seconds slower in qualifying 17th.
“I used the first two hours of the session just to get used to driving the car in the dry,” Mucke revealed, “With free practice having been held in mixed conditions, this was our first chance to have some normal dry running and, in the second part of the session, I wasn't really going for a quick lap time, as our focus is firmly on the race. But the car felt very good and I was pleased with the time we produced, despite the fact that we were held up by a lot of traffic.
"[The performance] is a sign of the progress that has been made, but the gap [to the pacesetters] remains too big - there are clearly still two classes in LMP1, petrol and diesel. But our aim was always to be the quickest of the petrol cars and I'm delighted that we have achieved our goal so far.”
Davidson set the fastest time in the #008 car, on his debut with Aston Martin Racing, but also reported that he could have gone quicker had it not been for other cars holding him up.
“I'm very pleased with our performance, although it was far from an ideal lap,” the Briton said, “I had serious traffic and this is still a different style of racing to what I have been used to recently. However, I think our race pace is more indicative of our potential than qualifying, so this is very encouraging for the weekend. We've got very good straight line speed, which is going to help us deal with all the traffic during the race.”
Dutch veteran Kox set the best time in the #009 car on his final timed lap just before midnight.
The Speedy Racing Sebah team, running last year's Aston Martin-powered Lola, was third quickest of the petrol cars, meaning that Aston Martin engines occupy the top three petrol-powered places on the Le Mans grid this year.