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Le Mans, qualif 2&3 : Positive start to proceedings for the ORECA 03R and Alpine A450b

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AUTO - SCRUTINEERING & QUALIFING 24 HOURS OF LE MANS 2014Although the Alpine A450b, designed and built by ORECA, and the ORECA 03R entries settled for positions further back on the grid following qualifying for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the LM P2 teams running the prototype designed in the Signes workshops look ahead to the legendary event with confidence. Signatech-Alpine will start from the fifth position in LM P2, followed by Murphy Prototypes and KCMG. Race Performance is also in the top 10, while SMP Racing rejoined the action after rebuilding the No. 37 between qualifying 1 and 2.

Third following the first qualifying session, Signatech-Alpine continued the momentum in Thursday’s two qualifying sessions, claiming provisional pole thanks to Paul-Loup Chatin. Second after qualifying session 2, the Bourges, France based team and defending ELMS champions ended the evening with a fifth place qualifying effort for the Alpine A450b. « Qualifying went well » admits Paul-Loup Chatin, who shares the car with Nelson Panciatici and Oliver Webb. « Every time I was in the car, I was in the top three, and even first on the timesheets. I’m very happy with the balance of the car. The performance is there and you don’t have to scare yourself to get it either. Nelson and Oliver did a great job and I’m convinced we could have been even higher in the classification, even pole position. The gaps are close and we have the performance to have a very good race. »

Second on Wednesday night, Murphy Prototypes will start from the third row next to the Signatech-Alpine with its ORECA 03R (n°48). Sharing the car with Karun Chandhok and Rodolfo Gonzalez, Nathanaël Berthon was satisfied with the final two qualifying sessions. « I was on provisional pole a few minutes before the end of the second qualifying session even with a little traffic on my best lap » he explained. « It’s clear that we can go under 3:38 a lap. We have a great car, which is well balanced and very good in the quick sections. I’m happy with the handling, including with used tyres. Our qualifying time doesn’t reflect our potential, because we could have been able to fight for the top positions. This is my first 24 Hours of Le Mans, and it’s simply mega ! Our trio of drivers get along well and if we manage to avoid both mechanical and on-track issues in the race, we’ll be in a good position for the finish. I have high expectations ! »

Chinese team KCMG (ORECA 03R n°47) qualified seventh in LM P2, while Race Performance (ORECA 03R n°34) claimed the ninth best time. It’s mission accomplished for the Swiss team, as Franck Mailleux explains : « We were aiming for a top 10 and that’s what we got. We could have done better, but we weren’t looking for outright speed and we didn’t go for another qualifying run. We preferred to stay smart. It’s a team sport, and you have to keep everyone in mind, including the mechanics who need to take on this race in the best of conditions. The car’s handling was good, we had no issues and the drivers feel good behind the wheel. We’re hoping to be a little better in fuel consumption but only the race can tell us that. We hope to follow our plan, and if we are able to do that, I know we’ll have a good result within reach, such as a top five or a podium. I’m more confident this year than last. »

While Sébastien Loeb Racing (ORECA 03R n°24) claimed the 11th best time, SMP Racing finished the evening in 12th and 13th place with its two cars (n°37 and n°27). Following and accident for the No. 37 on Wednesday, the Russian team was forced to change chassis and rebuild the car between qualifying 1 and 2. The car was therefore ready to take on both session on Thursday to continue preparing for the twice around the clock classic.

In a class that is ever competitive and with solid qualifying performances, the ORECA 03R and Alpine A450b teams are confident they will battle for top honours starting at 3 p.m. on Saturday.