Audi's four-strong entry proved a tough nut to crack on the opening day of meaningful action at the Circuit de la Sarthe, locking out the top three positions in qualifying for this weekend's Le Mans 24 Hours.
Reigning champions Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer snatched the overnight advantage - with another four hours of qualifying to come on Thursday - with the German posting a last-gasp lap at 3min 25.453secs to deprive veteran Tom Kristensen and the crew of the #2 machine the honour of leading the way.
Audi also claimed third spot with the #3 car of Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Loic Duval, with Dumas lapping just a couple of tenths off the pole pace. The fourth Audi was a couple of places further back, split from its stablemates by the leading Toyota entry, crewed by Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima, which had earlier come close to snatching a top three position of its own.
The other TS030 HYBRID rounded out the top six and, as expected, was well clear of the leading petrol entries, headed by the Strakka Racing HPD ARX-3a, which Danny Watts put into seventh spot with a time of 3min 32.750secs. The Englishman's effort was good enough to put the HPD ahead of both Rebellion Racing Lolas, with the Pescarolo Dome and similar JRM HPD slotting into tenth and eleventh overall. The LMP1 class was completed by the OAK Racing Pescarolo, with the second official Pescarolo team entry failing to post a flying lap after suffering damage in a late practice accident.
The surprise pacesetter in LMP2 was Christophe Tinseau in the #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing ORECA, who posted a time of 3min 39.252secs to outdo a series of more fancied runners. Indeed, the first places in class were filled by unexpected contenders, with the Murphy Prototypes ORECA next up, courtesy of Brendan Hartley, and the Starworks HPD third. TV commentator Martin Brundle's Greaves Motorsport Zytek was 23rd overall, eleventh in class and nearly three seconds of Tinseau's pace.
Nestled among the LMP2 runners was the 'Garage 56' entry run by Highcroft Racing. Its Nissan DeltaWing looked well matched with the more conventional prototypes, and could have improved on its eventual 26th overall had a hefty jolt not activated the onboard fire extinguisher and cut the engine, leaving the car stranded out on the circuit.
A little less surprising was the sight of Corvette at the top of the GT class, as Oliver Gavin used his extensive Le Mans experience to put the #74 C6.R into top spot. Next up was the Luxury Racing Ferrari of Jaime Melo, Frederic Makowiecki and Dominik Farnbacher, while Jan Magnussen completed the Ferrari sandwich by putting the other works Corvette into third in class. The lone Aston Martin in the race slotted into fourth in class, with the sole remaining AF Corse Ferrari next up, salvaging the day for the Italian team after its sister entry - shared by the high-profile line-up of Giancarlo Fisichella, Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander, was badly damaged after cfashing in morning practice.
GTE-Am pole was claimed by Patrick Pilet for Flying Lizard Motorsports, despite a late effort from La Sarthe debutant Sean Edwards, who took the #75 ProSpeed Porsche perilously close to top spot, and well clear of the third-placed works Aston Martin.
Another four hours of qualifying remain on Thursday evening, with all teams keeping an eye on the weather in case it should rain. While the preparation would be useful for the race, its intensity could effectively determine whether meaning time-setting is done for the weekend.