Henri Pescarolo's eponymous team took the pre-race honours at Le Mans, with its two Judd-powered prototypes setting the pace on the annual test day, with Emmanuel Collard eventually getting down to the sort of times that claimed the 2004 pole for Johnny Herbert and the Veloqx Audi before rain curtailed any meaningful activity.

The blue-and-white Pescarolo-badged Courages were among the few teams looking to set qualifying-style times in the afternoon session, and were 'rewarded' by opening out a comfortable gap on the rest of the LMP1 one field.

"For sure, we could go quicker," Collard insisted, "Today, we were just using race tyres, and we were quick. If we had used qualifying tyres, we would definitely have been quicker - maybe two seconds quicker."

The car shared by Frenchmen Collard, Jean-Christophe Boullion and Erik Comas eventually set the benchmark at 3min 32.468secs, 3.4secs quicker even than the sister car of Eric Helary, Soheil Ayari and rally star Sebastien Loeb, who jetted back from his triumphant appearance in Turkey to get a brief taste of the La Sarthe circuit. Loeb's ambitious dash almost never happened as his plane was delayed for an hour and the Frenchman arrived with barely enough time to complete his all-important tenth lap, starting it with just 21secs left on the clock!

"The conditions were difficult, as I was on slick tyres and there was some rain on the track, but the car was well prepared," Loeb reported, "Obviously, going from the Citroen, it's very different, but the car was okay. I did a lap in 3min 45secs when the track wasn't too wet. I was going quicker, but then it started to get wetter. After that, I just concentrated on staying on the track and doing the ten laps."

The second-placed #17 car was, in turn, almost two seconds quicker than the 'best of the rest', and there was further good news for the French - who are desperate to see a 'home' win after years of Audi dominance - with the 'works' Courage trio of Jonathan Cochet, Bruce Jouanny and Shinji Nakano completing the top three.

Things will surely be different come the event itself, however, with the venerable Audi R8 still showing signs of being the car to beat. Regulation changes have put greater restrictions on the performance of the 'old-school' prototypes, and the best example on show on Sunday was the lead Champion Racing car of JJ Lehto and Marco Werner, which claimed fourth place on the preliminary timesheets, albeit some six seconds shy of the pace. With DTM regular Tom Kristensen due to join the European duo in their American-run car, however, the R8 cannot be counted out.

There were some encouraging results too for Dome and Dallara users, with the Jim Gainer International team taking the former to fifth fastest time. Japanese works trio Ryo Michigami, Seiji Ara and Katsutomo Kaneishi edged out the privateer Rollcentre Dallara of Martin Short, Joao Barbosa and Vanina Ickx by a tenth of a second at the end of the day, with the French ORECA Audi seventh and the second Champion R8 eighth.

In all, the top twelve places went, as expected, to LMP1 machinery, with the best of the LMP2s being provided by the American Intersport Racing team. The new Lola B05/40 chassis proved to be the car to have in the junior prototype class, as the Gregor Fisken, Liz Halliday and Sam Hancock entry edged out the RML version crewed by Thomas Erdos, Warren Hughes and car owner Mike Newton. The similar Chamberlain/Synergy car was a couple of places further back, separated from its cousins by the Courages of Kruse Motorsport and Paul Belmondo Racing.

The RML Lola started the afternoon session at the head of the class, but was gradually pegged back by the Intersport car. The two Lolas share a similar chassis but have different engines, although the close times within the class shows that the new regulations are obviously working well.

Rollcentre's Nissan-powered LMP1 Dallara was a little out of touch in 18th overall, and only narrowly out-paced the best of the GT1 entries. As had been widely expected before testing began, the class was led by the two Aston Martin DBR9s, with the Tomas Enge/Peter Kox/Pedro Lamy version getting the better of the David Brabham/Darren Turner/Stephane Sarrazin car by about half a second.

The two green machines proved faster on the day than more than a few LMP2 entries, notably those from Sebring winner Miracle Motorsport and the second cars from Intersport and Belmondo, and seriously out-gunned the next best GT1 car, the Russian Age/Cirtek Racing Ferrari of Christophe Bouchut, Nikolay Fomenko and Alexey Vasiliev.

By contrast, the two Corvettes - of Ron Fellows/Johnny O'Connell/Max Papis and Oliver Gavin/Olivier Beretta/Jan Magnussen - seemed more content to work on reliability and race set-up, eventually carding the fourth and sixth fastest times in GT1.

"Those guys are going to be the fast guys," programme manager Doug Fehan admitted of the Astons, "We never win the pole - but that's not what's important!"

The fastest GT2 car placed 36th on the 50-car timesheet, and was provided by American visitor Petersen/White Lightning. The American Porsche GT3-RSR was clearly intent on setting the pace, as Timo Bernhard set a new unofficial lap record during the morning session, before the team backed off to concentrate on other aspects of its preparation.

As a result, the rest of the field closed the gap over the day, with the Alex Job Racing/BAM! Porsche of Mike Rockenfeller, Marc Lieb and Leo Hindery getting to within 1.5secs. However, the Michael Petersen/Pat Long/Timo Bernhard-crewed PWL car only narrowly beat the next best in class, the ever-improving Panoz Esperante of Bill Auberlen, Robin Liddell and Scott Maxwell, suggesting a close-fought GT2 battle could be in store for Porsche.

The best of the Ferraris in the class had a troubled time, finishing only sixth fastest after a fuel pick-up problem forced the Scuderia Ecosse team of Nathan Kinch, Andrew Kirkcaldy and Anthony Reid to run on full tanks all day.