Team Oreca's Peugeot 908 HDi FAP ran flawlessly for six hours at Portimao's Autodromo Internacional de Algarve to take victory in tonight's Le Mans Series race by a margin of five laps over the Lola of Rebellion Racing.
Piloted by Olivier Panis, Nicolas Lapierre and Stephane Sarrazin, the No. 4 Peugeot did not put a foot wrong in an exemplary performance, making only the scheduled seven stops in the pits over the span of the six-hour race that ran without a single safety-car period.
"Victory was essential and we've done it," said Lapierre. "We've had a perfect event; we were able to improve the car in each session; we didn't have any problems and we were always quick. For me the race went off without a hitch. I already had a good lead after Olivier's and Stephane's stints. The car was running so well that all I had to was to nurse it home."
In spite of the team's speed, it was the long-awaited first victory in the works-supported Peugeot. The team lost two previous victories at Le Castellet and Spa-Francorchamps, with electrical problems and an accident, respectively.
The hoped-for battle with the No. 12 Rebellion Racing Lola did not materialize as the crew of Neel Jani and Nicolas Prost were unable to reach their qualifying pace in race trim. Within three tenths in last night's qualifying session, the team's best race lap was 1.6 seconds slower than that of the Oreca Peugeot crew.
Still, it was good enough to move through the field -- Jani started from the back of the grid after the team's qualifying times were disallowed due to a technical violation -- and scored a second place over Signature Racing's Lola-Aston Martin.
Pierre Ragues, Franck Mailleux and Vanina Ickx were quick for Signature, bettering the No. 12 Rebellion in lap speeds and running second in the first hour, but two extra pit stops early in the race, doomed the team to the bottom step of the podium.
With LM P2 front-runners Strakka Racing forced to perform extensive repairs to their HPD ARX-01 due to an early-race driveshaft failure, the door was left wide open for the perennial threat in class, the RML Lola-HPD.
Tommy Erdos, Mike Newton and Ben Collins took class victory for the team with 201 laps completed. That was good enough for fourth overall, 14 laps behind the winning Peugeot, but only eight laps off the total of the Signature Lola Aston Martin.
Team Bruichladdich (Karim Ojjeh, Tim Greaves and Thor-Christian Ebbesvik) was the only other survivor in the decimated LM P2 class, finishing eight laps behind RML and a scant 44 seconds of the top Formula Le Mans entry, that of Jody Firth and Warren Hughes.
AF Corse's two leading Ferrari F430s, too, ran like clockwork and the team's lead was never seriously threatened in the LM GT2 class. Jaime Melo and Gianmaria Bruni took the class honours and ninth overall in the team's No. 96 car, a lap ahead of the No. 95 piloted by Jean Alesi, Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander.
"This is our second time here at Portimao and it's a fantastic place and an amazing circuit," said Bruni. "We had a poor start this year and the title is gone for us, but we love the (Le Mans) Series and will be in Budapest."
The Porsche threat was real, though, not just perceived, and Team Felbermayr Proton's No. 77 entry (Marc Lieb and Richard Lietz) finished less than two seconds behind the second Ferrari, with Lietz losing the second position to the hungry Vilander in the closing laps.
"The competition this time was very strong," Lieb recounted. "The leaders were simply unreachable. With the others, we fought for our position to the last minute and achieved our main goal of defending our lead in the points."
The sole LM GT1 entries in the event, a pair of Saleen S7-Rs entered by Larbre Competition and Atlas FX-Team FS, were clearly outclassed by the leading LM GT2 entries and while they finished 1-2 in the class, they were 8 and 21 laps behind the No. 96 Ferrari -- and behind all the still-running LM GT2 entries.