Premat, Audi lead at halfway mark in Monza

Alexandre Premat in the No. 2 Audi Sport Team Joest R10 TDI leads the way at Monza with half of the 1000km race distance complete. The Frenchman has yet to make his third pits top, which put the diesel-fueled LM P1 car one lap ahead of the No. 8...

Alexandre Premat in the No. 2 Audi Sport Team Joest R10 TDI leads the way at Monza with half of the 1000km race distance complete. The Frenchman has yet to make his third pits top, which put the diesel-fueled LM P1 car one lap ahead of the No. 8 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP of Stephane Sarrazin.

While Audi faced misfortune in hour one, Peugeot also ran into trouble not too long after. One hour and 30 minutes in, race leader Nicolas Minassian brought his No. 7 Peugeot into the pits with driveshaft failure. The same problem plagued the team during morning warm-up.

"We are going to have a look at the car," Peugeot Sport director Michel Barge said shortly after the car was wheeled to the garage. "We think we have a driveshaft problem in the rear of the car. I think it's quite the same problem we had this morning."

Minassian lost 15 minutes and nine laps while the team made repairs. Ironically, the Frenchman rejoined just one lap behind Dindo Capello, who has been charging up the leaderboard after recovering from a violent crash in the first hour.

A battle on two fronts between the diesel juggernauts has now developed: one for the overall lead, and the other further back in the standings. The No. 8 Peugeot and No. 2 Audi are up front overall, with the delayed No. 7 and No. 1 entries fighting for 20th overall.

Pedro Lamy took the overall lead away from Mike Rockenfeller after the Audi pitted shortly before the two-hour mark. The Portuguese veteran stayed out in front before pitting thirty minutes later, handing back over to Sarrazin.

"I think Stephane had a difficult time at the beginning of the race," Lamy said after his stint. "The car is a bit unbalanced. The car is still fast, but very difficult to drive. It's a long race and we have to be careful."

This gave the No. 2 Audi the top spot yet again, with Premat now behind the wheel. However, his routine pit stop is imminent. Sarrazin runs in second while the No. 16 Pescarolo Sport Judd of Jean-Christophe Boullion and Emmanuel Collard in third, one further lap behind.

The Charouz Racing Systems Lola B06/80 Aston Martin lost further time with electric gremlins. The Czech team replaced part of the ignition system and put Jan Charouz behind the wheel. The P1 coupe now runs 13 laps behind the leaders outside of the top-30 overall.

Jos Verstappen had control of the LM P2 category until getting hit by a LM GT2 class Spyker, suffering rear bodywork damage. The Dutchman was forced to make a long stop for repairs.

"Somebody drove into me in the second chicane," Verstappen said. "I think he forgot to brake. We had to repair the car and I think we lost a lot of time. The car was running great, but what are you going to do?"

This handed the class lead to another Porsche RS Spyder, the Essex Racing example of John Neilsen and Casper Elgaard. Horag Racing's Porsche of Fredy Lienhard runs in second, with the Saulnier Racing Pescarolo in a rather surprising third.

Like the battle in P1, the LM GT1 fight has been a two-horse race. The No. 72 Luc Alphand Aventures Corvette C6.R of Olivier Beretta and the Tomas Enge's Team Modena Aston Martin have been swapping the lead all race long.

"The car was really good," Beretta said. "It was a good battle with the Aston in the beginning. We have to see what's going on with the race. The track is really good. I haven't been here for 10 years. It's always nice to come back here."

Team Modena has been single stinting its Michelin tires, and Enge is still uncertain of the Corvette's strategy. Enge came in shortly after the halfway mark, handing back over to co-driver Antonio Garcia.

"The situation is a little bit unclear," Enge said. "We don't know what the real strategy of the 72 car is. Right now we're doing everything according to our plan and we'll see where we can be at the end of the race. But we're hoping we end up the same place where I came in."

Rob Bell in the Virgo Motorsport Ferrari F430 GT led the GT2 category from the start until suffering a series of tire punctures in the second hour. The Englishman was baffled by the problems, which has now put the car out of contention for the win.

"We were going well," Bell said. "On my last lap of my stint, the right rear just went. Jimmy's [Bruni] gone in and it's gotten another flat. We have no idea what's going on."

With the Ferrari falling by the wayside, Porsche has taken control of the class, heading a 1-2-3 for the German brand. The No. 76 IMSA Performance Matmut 997 GT3 RSR of Raymond Narac now leads, one lap ahead of the James Watt Automotive entry of Tim Sugden and the No. 91 Farnbacher Racing car of Lars-Erik Neilsen.

The race is likely to go to the full race distance of 1000km, instead of the six-hour time limit. At the rate it's going, the checkered flag should wave with around five hours complete. Stay tuned for more race updates.

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About this article
Series European Le Mans
Drivers Jos Verstappen , Antonio Garcia , Nicolas Minassian , Emmanuel Collard , Stéphane Sarrazin , Pedro Lamy , Rob Bell , Jean-Christophe Boullion , Luc Alphand , Tim Sugden , Olivier Beretta , Alexandre Prémat , Mike Rockenfeller , Casper Elgaard , Raymond Narac , Jan Charouz , Dindo Capello
Teams Audi Sport Team Joest