It was not Courage as expected but WR which signed the pole-position with both cars on the front row. The drivers in question were William David and Patrick Gonin and it was a fitting reward for G (Brard Welter and his men. “ A French chassis, French engine and Michelin tyres plus a French driver, it was a 100% French effort”, said Vincent Soulignac, the WRs (94 and 95) designer. For the 25 year old William David, this pole is his first international achievement after two French Championship titles (Formula Ford in 1989 and Peugeot Spyder 905 in 1994). He is the present leader of the “Criterium Supertourisme” and the first Rookie to set pole at Le Mans. However, he is not the youngest as Pedro Rodriguez was only 23 in 1963 when he set fastest lap in practice. Both Jean-Bernard Bouvet and Richard Balandras, also F Ford graduates, have both raced at Le Mans once in a Graff Racing Spice.
The second session was an exciting one as pole changed hands on several occasions. After ten minutes, David dislodged Wollek with a lap in 3 mn 50.96 secs. Forty minutes later Gonin got down to 3 mn 49.6 secs. Then, at 20h26, Wollek (with the factory engine) got back on pole in 3 mn 48.75 Secs. But at 22h07, William David put the issue beyond doubt with a lap in 3 mn 46.02, 216 km/h. Not bad for a little turbocharged engine of 1900 ccs. To complete WR’s triumph, Gonin set the second quickest time at the end of the session.
Wollek, Andretti and H (Blary therefore have to make do with the second row alongside the Lagorce-Pescarolo-Bernard C41 which suffered from a loss of power. The other C41 driven by Van De Poele-Beretta-Tomljie managed the fourth quickest time before being excluded as it was found to be underweight (866 kgs instead of 886 kgs).
This exclusion is a godsend for the Chereau-Yver-Leconte Porsche, and it also probable that the two Venturi 600 LMS will start as only one driver is qualified on the Norma and the Tiga. The former had engine problems again while the latter stopped on the circuit after the driver heard a noise and thus Sylvian Boulay’s team could not carry out repairs. A third car did not set a time on Thursday evening, the Gachot-Hahne-Capelli Honda NSX turbo which was again hit by gearbox problems. The normally aspirated Honda’s engine would not rev properly so it was up to the GT2 driven by Takahashi to save Honda’s honour with the 37th time.
The Kremer team had a difficult evening as Franz Konrad went off at Indianapolis when on a quick lap but the K8, which had a damaged front right-and corner, is repairable. The Austrian accepted responsibility for the accident in spite of understeer. Alfonso d’Orleans was also caught out by cold tyres on leaving the pit lane. Stuck, Boutsen and Bouchut spent the session setting up their K8 for the race. The Kudzu-Mazda set the 19th quickest time as its tri- rotor engine was a little down on power. The Deborah blew a turbo at the start of the session. The Ferrari 333SP was finally qualified by Jay Cochran after the Euromotorssport team had accepted the fitting of a sensor ( above the box) allowing the scrutineers to check the engine speed. However, too much time was lost as Massimo Sigala reckoned that the car was capable of 3 mn 45 secs.
Ferrari has other resons for satisfaction as the three F40s were the quickest of the GT1s, Mancini ahead of Olofsson. After spending most of the time working on race set-ups, the Ferrari Club Italia drivers went for it at the end of the session in spite of a brief stoppage on Les Hunaudi (Bres and then a slight “off” by no.40.
The fastest of the McLaren GTR1s was no.59 driven by Dalmas-Letho-Sekiya while the Gulf team stopped early to give the cars a break. However, the principal exploit in the GT1 category was Jean-Marc Gounon’s 10th place inn the works Venturi 600 LM heading no fewer than six of the seven McLarens, a well-deserved reward for the work carried out since pre-qualifying by Denis Morin’s team. The Larbre Competition Porsches practised with low boost, but in spite of that Jarier’s engine blew at the start of the session due to a blocked wastegate.
No real problems in the Jaguar and Callaway/Augusta camps: the latter are now fitted with X-Trac gearboxes ( the ZF on no.76 broke on Wednesday). Almo Copelli set the quickest time in the GT2 Category way ahead of Calderari’s Porsche and Takahashi’s Honda.
A good performance came from the Lister Jaguar which set the 25th time in spite of broken suspension. The Nissan and Toyota teams continued setting up their cars for the Le Mans circuit. Good performance by Alain Fert (B in the Sard before he was stopped by a broken exhaust manifold. Toshio Suzuki improved by seven seconds in the Skyline GTR-M, underlining the team’s progress.
The Marcos team are happy just to have qualified the two 600 LMs on their Le Mans return. No.70 stopped just after Mulsanne with electrical problems and no.71 had an oil leak. Other incidents: slight accident for the no.78 Porsche, a blown engine for the no.30 Chevrolet and a blown turbo for the Freisinger Porsche.