Pescarolo Sport LM P1s dominated qualifying for this weekend's 24 Hours of Le Mans, raising hopes that the French team will end the domination Audi, which has won every year since 2000, with the exception of Bentley's one-off win in 2003.

Pescarolo Sport LM P1s dominated qualifying for this weekend's 24 Hours of Le Mans, raising hopes that the French team will end the domination Audi, which has won every year since 2000, with the exception of Bentley's one-off win in 2003.

The #16 car of Jean-Christophe Boullion, Emmanuel Collard and Erik Comas took pole position just under one second ahead of the sister #17 car of Soheil Ayari, Eric Helary and current world rally champion Sébastien Loeb.

The two Pescarolo prototypes went out early in the opening few minutes as Collard and Ayari exchanged fastest times but Collard replied and held the lead for the next hour until Ayari put in a 3:35,555s lap right at the end of the first session to take the lead going into the break. Collard responded with a 3:34,715s on his first lap in the second and final session and was never headed, giving the all-French team the front row for Saturday's start in the historic endurance race at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

"It (the track) resembles what I have seen on the Playstation game, but it's totally different when you start driving for real," Loeb said on Thursday. "It's a much faster circuit than the ones I know and you really have an impression of incredible speed.

New rules for 2005 have restricted the pace of Audi's cars and the team faces a challenge from several quarters. The three R8s were unable to get close to the speed chart leaders as their loss of straight-line speed prevented them from challenging for the pole. That forced the teams to spend much of the early part of the session working on finding suitable race set-ups. The drivers still pushed hard and two of the three prototypes ran off the circuit during the first hour of the session.

Franck Montagny in the Audi Playstation Team ORECA R8 and Allan McNish in the #3 ADT Champion Racing R8 both put in several quick laps during a late charge at the end of the first session before the one-hour break between the two 2-hour sessions.

The Jim Gainer International Dome Mugen of Ryo Michigama, Katsumoto Kaneishi and Seiji Ara maintained a solid third place through most of the first session and gradually improved its time towards the end but a late flurry from its rivals demoted the team to seventh place at the break.

Kaneishi responded early in the final session to move up to and remain in fourth position, three tenths of a second behind the McNish and two tenths ahead of Montagny.

The Courage Competition Judd qualified sixth, followed by the Creation Autosportif DBA Judd and the third Audi, #3 belonging to ADT Champion Racing. Behind the two Pescarolo cars the third to eighth placed cars were covered by a little over one second.

The battle of the day was for the head of the LM P2 class with several changes of lead. The Lola MG of Warren Hughes, Thomas Erdos and Mike Newton was running three seconds ahead of the Miracle Motorsports Courage AER of John Macaluso, Ian James and Andy Lally for most the first session - James gradually pulled away over several laps to build up a lead of nearly a second but this was virtually wiped out with a late charge from Thomas Erdos to close up to about a tenth of a second.

In the second session there was a titanic battle as Lally went quickest with a 3:47,029s, then Sam Hancock (Intersport Racing Lola AER) went ahead with a 3:46,982s, Erdos responded with a 3:46,205s and Didier Andre (Paul Belmondo Racing Courage Ford) sealed the top spot with a 3:42,301s.

The Prodrive-produced Aston Martin DBRS9of David Brabham, Darren Turner and Stephane Sarrazin led the GT1 class for most of the first session running two seconds faster than their sister car with co-drivers Peter Kox, Pedro Lamy and Tomas Enge. Kox had a moment at the end of a long stint that ruined his tyres and forced an early return to the pits, although the car then went back out and moved one second ahead of Brabham's DBRS9.

The cars remained in these positions for the most of the evening as the team concentrated on race setups until both cars came out for a series of short stints in the closing minutes with Brabham in #59 and Enge in #58 exchanging fastest times and Enge eventually coming out on top.

The 2004 Le Mans winners will start the race from third on the grid. Corvette Racing's #64 with co-drivers Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Jan Magnussen have a formidable challenge ahead to score the GT1 class victory.

Mike Rockenfeller led the GT2 class in the Alex Job Racing/BAM! Porsche 911 GT3-RSR after a lap of 4:05,326s to move ahead of the battle between the Petersen/White Lightning Racing Porsche 911 GT3-RSR of Timo Bernhard, Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Long and the #77 Panoz Motor Sports Esperante belonging to Bill Auberlen, Robin Liddell and Scott Maxwell.

The race will be televised live on DsTV's SuperSport 6 channel from 3.30 pm on Saturday.

Original article from Car