Audi has laid the foundations for recording a third consecutive triumph in the Le Mans 24 Hours by blitzing the opposition in warm-up trials for the annual French marathon.
The German prestige car manufacturer's three "factory" entered R8 sportscars, featuring the latest FSI (petrol direct injection) 3.6-litre, V8 twin-turbocharged engines plus new rear bodywork designed especially for the round-the-clock encounter, claimed the first, third and fourth fastest times.
The Infineon Audi of Britain's Johnny Herbert and his Italian co-drivers Rinaldo Capello plus Christian Pescatori clocked the quickest time around the revised 8.62-mile Le Sarthe track after two, four hour time trials last Sunday (5 May).
Capello ultimately beat Herbert's quickest lap with just 10 minutes remaining when the Italian set a 3mins 30.296secs - an average speed of over 135mph. His time was a staggering two seconds quicker than the second fastest car and a massive 2.5secs quicker than the R8s managed at the official test day last year - despite the track being slightly longer due to the modifications between the Dunlop Bridge and the Esses.
The similar 200mph Audi of Frank Biela (D), Tom Kristensen (Den) and Emanuele Pirro (It) claimed the third fastest time (3:32.578). A third consecutive victory for the trio will re-write the motor racing history books as never before has the same three drivers won three consecutive Le Mans races.
In 2000, Audi finished 1-2-3 at Le Mans while its two "works" cars registered a comprehensive 1-2 last year.
The third, latest specification "factory" entered Audi of Michael Krumm (D)/Philipp Peter (A)/Marco Werner (D) were fourth quickest (3:33.180). Meanwhile the Audi Sport Japan Team Goh 2001-spec R8 of Seiji Ara (Jap)/Yannick Dalmas (F)/Hiroki Katoh (Jap) clocked a 3:36.074.
A 52-car entry contested the day-long test in overcast and cool conditions, the only opportunity to race around the circuit made up of public roads before this year's event on 15-16 June.
- J Herbert/R Capello/C Pescatori (Audi R8) 3min 30.296secs
- F Montagny/S Sarrazin/S Johansson (Oreca Dallara) 3:32.168
- F Biela/T Kristensen/E Pirro (Audi R8) 3:32.578
- M Werner/P Peter/M Krumm (Audi R8) 3:33.160
- M Blundell/J Bailey (MG) 3:33.414
- A Wallace/E van de Poele/B Leitzinger (Bentley) 3:34.556