2013 24 Hours of Le Mans. Sign of things to come?

Audi’s already looking good to take home the bacon at Le Mans. Take a look back through Le Mans’ recent history, and you’ll notice a four-ring pattern: the team has taken ten victories from the last twelve races at Le Mans – stunted only by Peugeot in 2009 and sister company Bentley in 2003 – taken ten victories at the event since 2000, and between 2000-2012 locked out the front row seven times.

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It didn’t come as too much of a surprise then when the R18 e-tron Quattro secured not only pole position but the top three spots on the grid, with nearest rival Toyota a further two seconds adrift of the trio. Business as usual certainly, but the team still had a lot to celebrate. This year marks the first time ever that two hybrid cars have shared the front row in the 24 Hours of Le Mans’ 90-year history. It marks Audi’s first top three lockout at La Sarthe since 2002, and it also marks new recruit Loic Duval’s first top spot at the big one.

Thanks to a smattering of rain and a few red flags, Duval’s time of 3m 22.349s set on Wednesday remained unbeaten across both qualifying sessions, despite a drying track and Audi teammates with the bit between their teeth edging closer. The #2 R18 e-tron Duval shares with illustrious teammates – and former event winners – Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish will start from the top spot.

Okay, you’ve all seen the qualifying results. Just behind are current World Endurance Championship leaders (by one point) Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer, who will be keen to repeat their breakthrough win at Le Mans last year. Lucas di Grassi, Marc Gené and Oliver Jarvis line up third in the #3 edition having been jumped in the final twenty minutes of Thursday’s qualifying by Lotterer, who improved on his best time from Wednesday in the closing stages. The silver and red up front might be the cars to beat, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be driving in tandem. Everyone wants to win at Le Mans, make no mistake.

Already 31 points behind in the championship chase following their retirement at Spa-Francorchamps, Toyota teammates Alexander Wurz and Nicolas Lapierre line up fifth just behind the sister #8 TS030 Hybrid. A final run from Anthony Davidson was another to improve on his final run, vaulting Sebastien Buemi, Stephane Sarrazin and himself into fourth. As always, the Rebellion cars of Nick Heidfeld, Neel Jani and Nicolas Prost, and Andrea Belicchi, Mathias Beche and Cong Fu Cheng are snapping at the leader’s heels.

Oliver Pla pulled a stonker out of the bag to secure LMP2 pole position for OAK Racing and teammates David Heinemeier-Hansson and Alex Brundle, just ahead of early leaders John Martin, Mike Conway and Roman Rusinov in the G-Drive Racing ORECA. Martin’s fastest lap on Wednesday had looked good for provisional LMP2 pole before a final run from Pla eroded the one-second deficit.

Aston Martin Racing continued their dominant run in the GT class, with #99 teammates Bruno Senna, Rob Bell and Frederic Makowiecki and #97 drivers Stefan Mucke, Darren Turner and Peter Dumbreck – who avoided taking off this year – scrapping for Pro class honours until the chequered flag in their Vantage V8s. GT standings leaders Senna, Bell and Makowiecki ultimately came out on top. Allan Simonsen, Kristian Poulsen and Christoffer Nygaard completed the Aston duo by cementing Am class pole position in the #95 Vantage V8. Abdulaziz Turki Al Faisal and Khaled Al Qubaisi meanwhile kept the Middle East flags flying in the JMW Motorsport Ferrari 458 they are sharing with Andrea Bertolini.

All this and I’m still on the train on the way to Le Mans. This is the big one for Audi. And it’s THE one for me. You’ll be hearing a lot about it, I can assure you. For now, start memorising the line-up HERE.

– Shots courtesy of Eric Fabre

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