Peugeot 908 wins debut race at Monza

Nicolas Minassian and Marc Gene drove the ...

Nicolas Minassian and Marc Gene drove the #7 Peugeot 908 HDi to victory in the Le Mans Rosa and Johnny Mowlem. prototype's first race, the Le Mans Series season opener at Monza. Showing speed and reliability that bodes well for the team's primary target, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Mianssian and Gene finished a trouble-free 1000 km race more than a lap ahead of the second-placed Pescarolo Sport entry.

"All the Peugeot teams throughout the world are happy with today's result," said Michel Barge, the team's sporting director. "It's the reward of intense work especially with our partner Michelin, which has supplied us with excellent tyres. It's the first stage and we've now found more courage to continue. We're going to mobilise ever ybody to attack the coming races with the same mindset and the same technical perfection."

The second works Peugeot, in the hands of Stephane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy, finished third, two laps down. The #8 car suffered from some problems with the car's innovative door design, and Sarrazin had to make two unscheduled pit stops as the door open unexpectedly while at speed on the circuit.

Assuming Peugeot's engineers address the door problems, the concern for the other teams will be the speed that the #8 showed when it was climbing back up in the standings in the final hour of the race. The car's best lap time was a full two seconds faster than that of the two Pescarolo entries. Is Peugeot holding back some more performance yet?

Still Pescarolo was much more than a backmarker, with the team's two new chassis showing well in spite of a failure in the leading #16 car's paddle-shifting mechanism. Emmanuel Collard and Christophe Bouillon took second place in that entry, slotting in neatly between the two Peugeots.

"I was a bit scared of (using the clutch) because we have not done it before," Collard admitted.

The team also took fourth with Harold Primat and Christophe Tinseau in the #17 car, a three laps behind the winner and one lap off the #8 Peugeot's pace. Team principal Henri Pescarolo is expecting to be more competitive yet, at the Valencia round as well as the 24H, once the cars get their revised rear bodywork.

The positive surprise of much of the weekend, the Charouz Racing Lola B07/17-Judd, was on the tail of the two Peugeots for much of the early part of the race, Stefan Mucke keeping up the pressure on the race favorites. However, Mucke experienced a gearbox failure shortly after the first round of pit stops, spinning the Lola at the chicane and barely being able to limp back to the pits. After some frantic repairs, the team was able to get the car running for the finish, though well back in the field.

The LM P2 category looked to be hotly contested but suffered from heavy attrition in the race. Horag Racing claimed the top spot in class, and sixth overall, with Fredy Lienhard, Didier Theys and Eric van de Poele sharing duties at the wheel. The victory must have eased some of the painful memories of the team's DNF at Sebring -- and the car was literally fresh off the boat, having just returned from Sebring the slow way.

"The car was fine during my stint, but I was being very defensive," Lienhard recounted. "I could have gone a little faster as the fuel level came down, but I didn't want to push it. When I came up on somebody who I thought didn't care if he had contact or not, I backed off and didn't push it. I really didn't want to have any problems. What's a few tenths of a second in a five-hour race? It's not worth it. My job was to give Didier the car in good shape!"

Mike Newton and Tommy Erdos claimed second in class for RML, four laps adrift of the Horag Lola, having had to make numerous additional pit stops to top up their MG's coolant reservoir. The car had developed a leak somewhere in the cooling system, but the team was unable to locate it in the heat of the race.

RML was the only other P2 entry to be in contention at the finish. Third was Binnie Motorsports' Lola B05/40-Zytek, piloted by Bill Binnie, Allen Timpany and Chris Buncombe, 15 laps behind the class winners.

Alphand Adventures rebounded from their pit fire on Friday to take class victory in LM GT1, finishing ninth overall in their lead Corvette C6.R. Luc Alphand, Jerome Policand and Patrice Goueslard completed 160 laps, one more than their lead rivals, Larbre Competition's Aston Martin DBR9 piloted by Christophe Bouchut, Gabriele Gardel and Fabrizio Gollin.

Alphand's second entry, the #73 Corvette C5-R, piloted by Vincent Vosse and Sebastien Dumez, took third in class, followed by another Aston Martin -- Team Modena's #59 -- and Racing Box's Saleen S7-R.

"I want to dedicate (this podium) to our two unfortunate mechanics," said Vosse. "This unfortunate incident has proven the strength of character and reaction of the Luc Alphand team, that was able to face up to the situation and still go on to produce a brilliant double result."

The Ferrari 430GTs were dominant in LM GT2 on this high-speed track, much more so than they have been on the tighter street courses in the last two ALMS events. The marque took a 1-2-3 finish to the delight of the 20,000 tifosi in attendance, led by the GPC Sport entry piloted by Fabrizio de Simone, Sergio Hernandez and Alessandro Bonetti.

Less than 20 seconds adrift were Alex Caffi and Denny Zardo in the Scuderia Villorba entry, and third in class, potentially a victim of unsuccessful fuel strategy, were Robert Bell and Allan Simonsen in the Virgo Motorsport Ferrari, also on the same lap as the class winners.

Tom Kimber-Smith and Danny Watts took fourth in class for the Team LNT Panoz Esperante, one lap down from the Ferraris, relegating the new Porsches 997 GT3 RSRs to the lower echelons of the results.

The top Porsche finisher was the Imsa Performance entry driven by Richard Lietz and Raymond Narac. The duo had started from pole, but was hampered by steering problems and could not keep up with the pace of the Ferraris, eventually finishing sixth in class,two laps down to the class leaders.

The series' next race is in Valencia in three weeks' time. And the showdown between Peugeot and Audi at this year's Le Mans 24H is already looming ...

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