A ONE-TWO FOR PEUGEOT IN ATLANTA DOWNPOUR
After several days of searing heat, the Georgian weather took a turn for the worse today. A cocktail of showers, storms and flooding caused the race to be interrupted shortly before the halfway point, with the No.08 Peugeot of Montagny and Sarrazin lapping ahead of the No.07 machine of Minassian and Lamy. In the end, the organisers chose not to send the cars back out, handing Peugeot its second one-two finish of the year following its triumph in the Le Mans 24 Hours in June.
Not once in the past 11 years has the 10-hour Petit Le Mans endurance race unfolded and ended in such appalling conditions. Following the intense heat that marked qualifying, the heavens opened early on race- day, prompting the warm-up session to be delayed, and the cars were forced to line up on the grid immediately after the handful of warm-up laps that were actually completed. This situation didn't make life easy for Team Peugeot Total which was unable to fine-tune its wet weather set-up prior to the start, especially since the 908 HDi FAP had never previously competed in such conditions. The early part of the race soon saw the two French cars lose their lead and they were unable to match the pace of the Audis which took control of proceedings. The track then dried out a little on a couple of occasions in the course of the first hour, however, and that gave first Pedro Lamy and Nicolas Minassian in the No.07 car a chance to close to within a handful of seconds of McNish's pace-setting Audi. Meanwhile, the No.08 sister car of Franck Montagny and Stephane Sarrazin which had trailed the leaders by as much as two laps at one point succeeded in making up ground thanks to a carefully thought- through strategy.
The displays of the two 908 HDi FAPs under the seven safety cars and the return of dry conditions then enabled the two Peugeot crews to take the battle to the McNish/Capello Audi, which led to a thrilling scrap and some breathtaking passing. A further safety-car intervention, the return of torrential rain and a spin by McNish put the seal on the final positions when the race was red flagged for safety reasons after 4 hours and 48 minutes! The teams remained in the starting blocks for almost four hours as they waited for the re-start, but in the end the organisers chose not to send the cars back out...
Bruno FAMIN: "Following the delayed warm-up, we had just five laps to set up the cars, and we started the No.07 car in a predominantly wet weather set-up, with the No.08 running dry weather settings. Intermediate tyres are not permitted in the United States, so we had to make do with full wets before we were able to switch directly to slicks. When the track eventually dried out, both cars proved very quick and we were able to run a double-stint strategy thanks to the consistency and performance of our tyres. At the same time, we coped very well with the safety car periods to catch and ultimately pass the Audis."
Stephane SARRAZIN: "We started the race with a low downforce set-up which made my first stint very difficult indeed. However, as soon as we switched to slicks, we were able to revert to a qualifying pace. It's nice to win after finishing second so often!"
Franck MONTAGNY: "It's great to have won the mini Le Mans! It all feels very weird, but I think the organisers were right to stop the race, because the conditions really were dangerous. We had an excellent strategy and our car was very fast once we were able to run on slick tyres."
Olivier QUESNEL: "We came here with the aim of using this race as a work session, while at the same time endeavouring to win. The entire team functioned very well and our drivers didn't make a single mistake despite the awesome conditions. We really made a big effort to win today and we can now look back at a great record in 2009 thanks to our one-two at Le Mans, our win at Spa, our second place at Sebring and our performance here at Road Atlanta today. Not to mention the all-Peugeot podium on January's Rallye Monte-Carlo and the Drivers' and Manufacturers' titles we have just secured in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge thanks to subsidiary-run programmes."