Tom Kristensen heads an all-Bentley front-row for this weekend’s 71st running of the historic Le Mans 24 hours. Is Audi’s run of consecutive Le Mans victories - currently at three - about to be broken?

Tom Kristensen heads an all-Bentley front-row for this weekend’s 71st running of the historic Le Mans 24 hours. Is Audi’s run of consecutive Le Mans victories - currently at three - about to be broken?

The Dane's 3:32,843s lap, which was set on Wednesday, kept the number seven Bentley over two seconds ahead of the number eight sister car. On Thursday, no Audi looked able to threaten Kristensen’s time, although they were all within two seconds of the second British machine.

The pole lap was about three seconds slower than Rinaldo Capello's Audi R8 pole from last year. Kristensen said: "I've lost the pole late in qualifying in the last two years, so its great to qualify on pole. But, like everyone, we forget about grid positions come 4pm on Saturday."

Significant improvements in the final two hours of Thursday session came only from the Audi UK car with a lap set in virtual darkness by Frank Biela, which shot them into third. Jan Lammers continued to spoil the VW Group party by taking his much-improved Dome-Judd to fourth, ahead of the two R8's that didn't improve in a quiet last session. Thus the Audi Japan and Champion Racing cars were left with fifth and sixth spots.

"We can't compete with the Bentleys in qualifying," said J J Lehto of Champion Racing, speaking for many frontrunners who settled for working on race setup in the late session. Most observers believe that the result of the race will depend on Bentley's outright speed versus Audi's better fuel consumption and slower tyre wear.

Ferraris ruled the roost in the GTS category, although there were a few fears when timing monitors mistakenly credited one of the Corvettes with a time good for ninth on the overall grid. As in the top class, the leading car didn't need to improve, with Tomas Enge's lap in the 550 Maranello comfortably quickest in class.

Although the works Corvettes will be third and fourth behind the red cars, their times were not far off those of the Ferraris. While the Maranellos may be marginally faster, the relatively undeveloped machines will be up against the trusted and strong Corvette machines.