Solid start for Aston Martin in first qualifying for the 76th Le Mans 24 Hours
The Gulf-liveried Aston Martin Racing team has got off to a solid start during the first qualifying session for this year's Le Mans 24 Hours, which starts at 3pm on Saturday 14 June. This evening's qualifying session, which was split into two periods – 7pm to 9pm and 10pm to midnight – saw the 55 competing cars take to the track for the very first time during the Le Mans week. A final qualifying session at the same times on Thursday 12 June will determine the start grid for the race.
Conditions remained dry and consistent for tonight's two qualifying periods, unlike the test day two weeks ago that was held in heavy rain. Due to the lack of meaningful data from that test day, the Aston Martin Racing team used the first qualifying session as development aimed squarely at finding the best race set-up.
Over the course of the four hours, the two DBR9 crews progressively adjusted the chassis and aerodynamic settings in order to find a good balance for the race and the final decisive qualifying session tomorrow. The 009 and 007 cars ended up fifth and sixth respectively at the end of the evening, having had the opportunity to gather essential information that will be vital to a strong race performance.
For the newly-formed 007 crew of Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Andrea Piccini and Karl Wendlinger, the evening's qualifying session was another valuable opportunity to get used to the DBR9 and each other. "The car is nicely balanced," said Wendlinger, after stepping out of the DBR9. "That's the most important thing for me, although there are still some areas where we can improve. The pace of our rivals is very quick, but we expected that. All the signs are that it will be a very close fight, which is good news for everybody."
In the 009 car, Darren Turner – who was absent from the test day due to touring car commitments in Britain – got the chance to drive at the Le Mans circuit for the first time since forming part of the crew that claimed GT1 victory last year in the DBR9. He shares the car with David Brabham, another member of last year's winning crew, and new recruit Antonio Garcia.
"There was quite a lot for me to get used to again, and we were making changes all the time," said Turner. "We had a lot of work to get through tonight – for example assessing the tyre wear over a long stint – and we concentrated on making sure we had a solid race set-up. I think that there's still more to come from us."
Charouz Racing Systems – which entered a new Aston Martin-powered LMP1 prototype – used the session to further develop the car, which is making its Le Mans debut. At the wheel of the prototype are Jan Charouz, Tomas Enge and Stefan Mucke.
Two privately-entered DBR9s also took part in the first qualifying session, entered by Team Modena and Vitaphone Racing. Team Modena's car, number 59, ended up 10th in class after the first qualifying session, while the number 53 car of Vitaphone was ninth.
Aston Martin Racing Team Principal George Howard-Chappell commented: "With the lack of meaningful data from the test weekend, we concentrated on finding a good race set-up for all our cars and getting the new drivers as familiar as possible with the cars on the track. At the end of the first session, we're pretty happy with the way that things have gone generally, and we're particularly happy with our race pace."