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BLOG - PUBLISHED ON JUNE 13TH 2012
2012 Le Mans Blog: Day One
Follow all the action from the Le Mans 24 Hours as it unfolds with our regularly updated rolling blog from the circuit

0008 - Still a packed media centre as the first qualifying practice at Le Mans concludes with a sensational last-gasp effort from Andre Lotterer. 3m25.453s - achieved in spite of several instances of traffic - was enough to put him one second clear of the field and fire a warning shot to the rest of the field.

You can read our full report from the session here - and for good measure peruse our morning practice report here. We're wrapping up for tonight, but join us tomorrow as we follow all the action as it unfolds here at Le Mans.

0004 - Simon Strang reports Rowan Atkinson is down in the garages this evening, although hampered somewhat by quick TV panning we can only confirm the car he is standing next to is white...

0000 - The chequered flag comes out, but we might just have a last-gasp improvement - Lotterer dips under the 32s mark in sector one, improving his own personal best. The second split is decent even if he does hit traffic...and the third is a new overall best too! He goes a full second clear at the top, and we now have an Audi 1-2-3-5 - the #7 Toyota spoiling the party.

2356 - Andre Lotterer and Mike Rockenfeller both improve, meaning the top five LMP1 cars are now covered by just over one second. Heavy traffic for Lotterer delays him in the second sector, just as he had blazed to a new overall best in the first split.

In reference also to Marino's tweet below, it is worth remembering that rain could still be possible tomorrow - which would effectively mean tonight's times stand in deciding the grid for the 80th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours.

2355 - DeltaWing's Marino Franchitti tweets: "A great run in qual for @MichaelKrumm, it came to an end when the master switch & extinguisher went off over a kerb. Real shame but better to find that out now rather than in the race. We'll be back at it tmrw."

2347 - Ever wondered how hot the brake discs on a GTE Pro car get, and specifically what would happen if you put one on a plastic floor? Well, funnily enough we have the answer - this time from Aston Martin's Darren Turner, who tweets: "That will be a hot brake disc then!!!!"

2345 - Loic Duval lights up the timesheets by going fastest of any in sector one. The pace is good over the second and third splits, but he just falls short of deposing Allan McNish - 0.158s all that stands between the pair now.

2338 - Richard Westbrook tells Radio Le Mans that Corvette's current pace - the #74 C6 has topped the GTE Pro class for almost the entire session - is a little surprising, but says Aston Martin and Ferrari are still capable of going quicker in the final 21 minutes of the session.

2334 - Wolf Henzler enjoys a brief kiss with the guard rail at the Ford chicane but is able to continue and bring the #77 Felbermayr-Proton Porsche 911 - currently sixth in GTE Pro - back into the pits for repairs. Mike Rockenfeller meanwhile improves to a 3m28.890s, still more than 2.3s shy of the lead Audi's pace.

2327 - Want to know what the drivers think of Le Mans in all its night-time glory? Wish they would tweet a photo at the same time? Well, Jonny Cocker is your man. The #66 JMW Ferrari driver says: "Le Mans pit lane at night has to be one of the coolest things I've seen!"

Le Mans 2012 Olivier Pla2321 - While we were drawn to that quick flurry of accidents, Olivier Pla has moved up into fifth in the LMP2 standings. A rough estimate puts the gap to the lead #46 ORECA-Nissan at around 1.650s. And no, this isn't the Frenchman on his current run, but we think it does the job.

2313 - We said it was thick and fast - Andrea Belicchi runs off at the Ford chicane now. Yellow and red flags suggest someone may have dropped some oil down at the corner. There's a sprinkling of gravel to deal with too as Belicchi returns.

2309 - Trouble coming thick and fast. As Gary Watkins debates the merits of his short-hand note-taking, Christophe Bouchut clatters the kerbs at Raccordement, gets flicked sideways and promptly finds himself facing the wrong way in the gravel. The #70 Larbre Porsche meanwhile has a front puncture and limps its way back to the pits.

2305 - Problems for the Gulf Racing Middle East Lola B12, which has ended up sideways and in the tyres just before the Dunlop bridge. Yellows for that section as marshals drag the car, boasting a very sorry-looking front end, out.

2259 - The e-trons are leading the way for Audi at the moment, in first and third, all part of the grand plan? Not if Toyota have anything to do with it, Nakajima is out in the #7 Toyota which lies in second.

2254 - The Nissan Deltawing, with Michael Krumm at the wheel hasn't been out in a while. it is effectively lying 11th in LMP2 and 22nd overall but the hard driving and an aggressive kerb has apparantly damaged the electrics.

2249 - Sam Hancock in the #38 Zytec Nissan just tweeted:"Aaargh, never known traffic bugger a qualy run so resoundingly...only P4, shouldn't matter but it does. #Pissed"

Corvette Le Mans 20122243 - The 'easy to drive' #74 Corvette is leading the GTE Pro category in 32nd overall. It's one of the noisier cars and Le Mans is all the better for it. The camera flashes are now increasingly obvious opposite the press box in the dark - although our shot opposite is, funnily enough, from this afternoon's session.

2238 - The #8 Toyota has a new engine plugged in and Stephane Sarrazin at the wheel but it is 5s away from Nicolas Lapierre in the other hybrid Toyota who is only half a second behind the lead Audi with a 3m27.191s.

2234 - Brundle watch continues: Alex is in the car and his pace in the dark is much better. He's done a 3m42.125s with the new setup.

2230 - The AF Corse Ferrari, driven by Giancarlo Fisichella earlier, will not be taking part in this session after the accident in practice. We went to have a look at the damage earlier and it looked like there was plenty to be done. The guys will not be getting much sleep tonight but they'll have the car repaired for tomorrow!

2227 - Normal form is resumed as the top three spots are taken by the Audi's numbers 2, 1 and 4 in that order. Every driver needs to qualify in the dark so they don't want to have any problems, but the pace is still hot. The #2 Audi has done a 3m26.536s.

2222 - Darren Turner was pleased with his pace in the four-hour practice session - where he was fastest in the GTE Pro class - but admitted to AUTOSPORT's Simon Strang that the team is still working hard to find some consistency in the set-up of the Aston Martin Vantage GTE. "We had the same thing in the test and we are looking at ways to even it out over the course of the stint. The lap itself was mega though, no traffic and a perfect run. Could do with another one of those tonight!"

2217 - Stephane Sarrazin is about to get his first taste of the Toyota at Le Mans. The former Peugeot driver, who was often the French manufacturer's talisman when it came to qualifying time at dusk, was scheduled to drive the TS030 during the test at the beginning of June but instead was injured in a large cycling accident.

According to editor Simon Strang, who has been shown the pictures by Stephane, the Frenchman is a very lucky boy and looked almost unrecognisable after landing face first in the shunt. He required 30 stiches to the face and right eye, which was impaled by his sunglasses! Luckily, if you find yourself autograph-hunting this week, Stephane looks more like his old self.

As for the lack of running in the new car (he tested it at Paul Ricard) he's not bothered: "I'll be OK, it has a brake pedal and throttle doesn't it?"

JRM

2209 - Before we enjoyed the benefit of JRM's food, we thought our entire sustenance for the night might be the giant bottle of Coke we had to beg Toyota for earlier in the evening...

2205 - The session has started and the drivers are starting to post early lap times. It isn't pitch black yet but lights are essential, even on the main straight under the media centre where it is well lit.

2158 - Team AUTOSPORT have returned to our desks ready for qualifying, with an atmospheric dusk settling over Le Mans and the first of three sessions about to commence.

During the break we've been scouring the paddock for news and gossip, and enjoying JRM's hospitality (thanks JRM), where we were all wowed by our rookie reporter Tom's ability to consume three plates of food in the blink of an eye.

2040 - A quick Brundle watch update in the break. Alex and Martin went out before Lucas Ordonez. Alex said "we worked on set-up and dad found about two and a half seconds, the car feels great now." Martin was having a massage, but Alex looked fresh, albeit after only about 10 laps.

2004 - Well the chequered flag has fallen on the first official session of this year's Le Mans 24 Hours and Audi, predictably, is fastest. Lotterer tried to go for a faster time on his last lap, and set a fastest sector two time on that lap, but ran into traffic in the final sector. Nevertheless it is an Audi 1-2-3-4.

LMP2 is currently headed by the Starworks HPD after a strapping lap by Ryan Dalziel. Aston remained quickest in GTE, while the DeltaWing remains the fastest arrow-shaped car in the grid. It also ended up 28th fastest with a relatively impressive 3m43.676s which puts the car deep in the LMP2 field.

1959 - Lotterer waits until the end of the session to fire in a 3m25.163s, which is by far the fastest lap we've seen this weekend, hybrid or otherwise.

1954 - McNish goes over the gravel at the first chicane as the Pescarolo remains parked under yellow flags at the second chicane. This probably means we are not likely to see any more dramatic changes in the order.

1945 - There's 15 minutes left in this first session, and while it's not delivered any massive surprises so far with Audis 1-2-3-4 and the only currently active Toyota fifth, 2.1s off the fastest time, it has given us reason for hope for an interesting race.

Davidson's time, set before the car ran in to an issue with the engine-drivetrain type area, is still good enough for sixth fastest at this point. Nick Leventis is running around in the Strakka HPD which is seventh quickest while Nic Minassian is keeping the Pescarolo-run Dome honest in eighth. Neel Jani's Rebellion Lola and Peter Dumbreck in the JRM HPD complete the top 10.

19:40 - Andre Lotterer has moved last year's winning crew back to the top of the order as TK hands over to Allan McNish. Lotterer's best lap is now a 3m26.310s.

In other news Watkins has returned to the pressroom from a bit of trackside fun with half the crew down at Arnage - all of whom have reported the action as thrilling - and having failed to injure anymore animals, is currently munching his way through our bag of pistachios.

19:28 - It's nice to see an Aston Martin up the sharp end. Darren Turner is currently fastest in GTE Pro for the factory squad ahead of Jaime Melo in what's considered the 'quick' Luxury Racing Ferrari 458 Italia.

19:27 - Flurry of excitement here as Mr Le Mans himself Tom Kristensen goes fastest in #2 hybrid - 3m26.494s.

19:21 - We're looking at shots of a mildly irritated Giancarlo Fisichella, who's looking at his mildly broken AF Corse Ferrari now that it's been retrieved from the Porsche Curves. It's not the done thing to go off in practice, but better to do it now, than later on when it really counts. Always worth getting the problems out of the way quickly.

Meanwhile, on the track, Bonanomi is putting on rather a fun display through the sequence of the chicanes at the end of the lap. The R18 ultra looks fairly hooked up through there. Well it looks fairly hooked up everywhere.

And in the essense of reporting factual accuracies Phillipe Haezebrouck just spun the Norma and continued - thought you'd want to know that.

19:12 - We should point out by the way that it is 19:12 where we are... Anyway some news on Brundlewatch, and the old master himself is in the car. According to @ZytekMotorsport, Martin's enjoying himself. He's not long set the #42 car's fastest time of the day so far - a 3m41.426s - which puts his Greaves Motorsport run machine fifth fastest overall in LMP2. Cobwebs duly dusted off we reckon.

Since we're talking about Nissan-powered racing cars, the latest news on the Deltawing is currently 33rd in the timesheet, and Satoshi Motoyama is at the wheel at the moment.

19:03 - Well after a swift driver change of our own, with Matt Beer handing over to Simon Strang in the press room, and the necessary change of chairs - due to physiques as differing as Alex Wurz and Anthony Davidson, we're back in business. And so far as we can tell, Watkins has managed to avoid anymore French wildlife.

That gravel appears to be still on the track, or at least the screen is saying so - not that anyone's really taking any notice. The only real difference at the top of the leaderboard now is that it is an Audi 1-2-3-4 currently now that Marco Bonanomi is fourth fastest in the #4 ultra. Interesting that the two hybrids are quickest, but not by a great deal at the moment.

18.46 - Bit of drama for the car currently second-fastest in GTE Pro - looks like Giancarlo Fisichella has put the #51 AF Corse Ferrari off the road at the Porsche Curves and caused some damage.

18.37 - As the information system reports rain on the start/finish straight, AUTOSPORT nips outside and sticks a hand out just to check... and yes, there is a very small amount of drizzle, but not enough for cause any frights.

Mixed weather is forecast for the whole week, though. The Corvette drivers suggested a bit of rain would be fine for them in the GTE Pro battle, with the wider variant of the C6 a much more amenable car in changing weather.

18.27 - There's a precautionary engine change underway for the #8 Toyota, which ground to a halt with smoke from the rear on the Mulsanne straight earlier today.

There isn't a lot wrong with the Toyota's speed - Davidson had just gone quickest when the problem developed - but the gremlins mean the car has only done five laps today, and Stephane Sarrazin still hasn't driven it at Le Mans at all, having missed the test day after a bicycle accident.

18.17 - Looking at replays of Lombard's incident at Mulsanne earlier, it seems a marshal alerted him to how much gravel he had collected in his spin, and his trundle around the roundabout was designed to shake it all out before he took to the track. Good thinking.

JRM

18.04 - David Brabham has just handed JRM's HPD over to Karun Chandhok. Brabham had only done three laps at La Sarthe in 2012 prior to first practice, having had to whizz off to Silverstone after initial running on the test day.

He was fairly ambivalent when editor Strang caught up with him though. "It was more important that Karun and Peter [Dumbreck] - who's coming back to prototypes - got time in the car. I've been here before!"

We asked him about the weather and what he though it might mean for JRM and he said: "Well we're aiming to be the top petrol car, wherever that may be, and the weather can always throw up a few surprises. I'll be surprised if there isn't an Audi or a hybrid on the podium at the end though!"

17.52 - Ex-Formula 1 driver Kazuki Nakajima is racking up mileage in the Toyota right now. Earlier today he told AUTOSPORT that TMG's simulator is so good that Le Mans didn't feel at all "confusing" when he first took to the track, but sported wide eyes and a big grin when he described how narrow some of the circuit's fastest areas are, adding "it's not quite like Formula 1..."

17.36 - Bit of an excursion for Signatech's #23 LMP2 ORECA-Nissan, which Olivier Lombard has spun at Mulsanne corner. Getting the car out of the gravel proved achievably, getting it over the kerbs, in the right direction and back on the circuit not so successful... In the end, Lombard takes an excursion around the whole Mulsanne roundabout before getting back on track and setting off.

17.24 - Times are already very rapid for this early in the event, particularly in some of the lower classes. The #45 Boutsen Ginion and #49 Pecom ORECA-Nissans are already under the LMP2 benchmark from the test day, and the #51 AF Corse Ferrari has done likewise with the GTE Pro pace.

17.20 - An update on the #8 Toyota, which earlier on this afternoon set what was then the fastest time of the session before then stopping on the Mulsanne straight on its next lap. The car has now been brought back to the garage, with Davidson reporting a drivetrain problem of some form, and playing down suggestions that there had been a minor fire.

17.18 - At the test day a fortnight ago, Toyota was fast on the straights but off the pace in the final sector, which team boss Pascal Vasselon put down to a compromise set-up.

"It's the compromise of our package," Vasselon told AUTOSPORT. "It's something that we're working on. To get a decent top speed we had to go for low downforce and we overshot it a little bit. We're investigating some solutions."

17.11 - A few early woes for the DeltaWing. Marino Franchitti took charge of its early runs, but an electrical problem left it slow on track. It cruised slowly back to the pits and is now being attended to.

17.06 - Brundle Watch... There will be a numbers of drivers we pay particularly close attention to on the Le Mans blog during the week, including father and son duo Martin and Alex Brundle in the Greaves Zytek-Nissan. The younger Brundle is taking his first laps of practice now and is currently 11th in LMP2.

16.54 - So with the usual caveats that it's only the early stages of practice, it means nothing etc, etc, etc... these early exchanges of top spot between Audi and Toyota seem to bode well for an exciting week.

Wurz (whose Toyota move is the subject of a new AUTOSPORT Plus feature) put Toyota back on top for a while with a 3m28.459s, but now it's Duval in front in the Audi ultra on 3m27.833s.

16.51 - @Sebastien_buemi tweets: "My Team mates doing pit stops!" pic.twitter.com/bV2wYqgN

16.44 - In the GT class, it's Toni Vilander's AF Corse Ferrari leading Jaime Melo's Luxury Ferrari, with the Corvette of Jan Magnussen giving chase - and that's exactly what the Corvette drivers were predicting earlier today. They suspect that Ferrari has the raw pace to lead the way in the class, but are certainly not ruling out victory, suggesting that their C6 ZR1s are very comfortable to drive and will very user-friendly in the race.

16.39 - Audi has returned to the head of the order, with the two e-trons now leading the way. Three-time winner Capello, who is making his last Le Mans appearance this weekend, is the pacesetter on a 3m28.787s, a scant 0.114s ahead of the sister #1 e-tron of Treluyer.

Rockenfeller is now third in the quickest Audi ultra, pushing the stranded Davidson down to fourth.

16.29 - Half an hour into the session, Toyota hits the front for the first time as Anthony Davidson laps in 3m30.162s in the #8 car, seven tenths of a second quicker than Audi's early benchmark. Wurz is third in the second Toyota.

But just after going quickest, Davidson runs into trouble, with the information system reporting that his #8 car has come to a halt between the Mulsanne chicanes.

16.21 - Toyota now starts putting in times, and Alex Wurz goes second on a 3m32.234s, 1.2s down on Duval. The hybrid Toyota has not had the easiest start to its Le Mans life - with a relatively late decision to expand to a two-car programme and a destructive test crash costing it testing mileage and ruling out its planned race debut in the Spa World Endurance Championship round. But while it may not be a realistic candidate for race victory, the Toyota TS030 does seem to have the raw pace to give Audi some scares.

16.15 - A big jump from Duval, as he lowers the benchmark to 3m30.914s, 2.8s ahead of Treluyer's e-tron. Looks like another improvement coming from Duval on his next lap too.

16.11 - Duval goes a little quicker with a 3m33.506s. No times from the Toyotas yet.

16.09 - It's obviously very, very early days, but we have an Audi one-two-three-four after the initial flying laps, with Loic Duval currently quickest on a 3m36.830s in the #3 ultra, 0.220s ahead of Benoit Treluer's #1 e-tron.

16.02 - With the first cars already out on track, you can get up to speed with all the runners and riders with our grid guide.

15.55 - Welcome to our rolling news blog from the 2012 Le Mans 24 Hours. AUTOSPORT is here en masse as usual - despite Gary Watkins's shunt with a squirrel on the way down. He's okay by the way (Gary, not so much the quadruped). So, since we're here we thought we'd keep you updated with a sort of live-ish (ed) notebook of interesting titbits as we go along through the week.

Keep refreshing the page for the latest news, action, and gossip from the world's greatest sportscar race. The four-hour free practice session is about to begin, in clear, dry and sunny conditions.

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