After a three day build-up to this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans, the action finally commenced on Wednesday with a four hour practice session, followed by a single qualifying session later that evening and two on Thursday evening. While the starting position for the legendary twice round the clock race is not that important, the prestige of pole still encourages teams and drivers to go for it. At the head of the tables it was incredibly tight with the works Audis and Peugeots separated by less than six tenths of a second. The fastest of all was Frenchman Benoit Treluyer, who in the process claimed Audi's first pole at Le Mans since Peugeot arrived on the scene in 2007. With the two big rivals so close on pace, it looks like the race on Saturday and Sunday will be an absolute cracker. In the other classes it was similarly tight with Signatech setting the fastest lap in P2 with their Nissan engined Oreca, the hugely competitive GTE Pro class was dominated by BMW with the works M3s placing first and third, and the GTE Am saw the AF Corse Ferrari F430 taking class pole.
Earlier on Thursday the supporting 'Le Mans Legend' cars took to the track for their one-hour qualifying. The field was a mix of evocative sports racers of the 1950s and '60s and included several class and outright winners like the 1959 Aston Martin DBR1 and 1955 Jaguar D-Type. The big news, however, that Sir Stirling Moss announced his retirement from competition after over 60 years behind the wheel of all sorts of competition cars. He completed one lap in his Porsche RS61 and concluded that he was no longer up to it, pulled into the pitlane and hung up his helmet at the spot. Another historic occurrence was the return to Le Mans of the glorious Mazda 787B that won the race exactly twenty years ago. Yesterday actor Patrick Dempsey drove the howling machine and it will be back out just before the race on Saturday.
All this and much more can be found in our ever growing gallery. At the moment it features 190 shots from the last five days. A full report and a many more images will follow shortly after the race. In the mean time this gallery should you keep you occupied for quite some time.

Enjoy the links:

2011 24 Hours of Le Mans Practice and Qualifying Gallery