THE FINAL HURDLE! The third round of the 2008 Le Mans Series calendar is the 1,000km de Spa- Francorchamps which stands out as Team Peugeot Total's final opportunity to prepare competitively for the season's highlight, the Le Mans 24 Hours.
THE FINAL HURDLE!
The third round of the 2008 Le Mans Series calendar is the 1,000km de Spa- Francorchamps which stands out as Team Peugeot Total's final opportunity to prepare competitively for the season's highlight, the Le Mans 24 Hours. Following its wins at Barcelona and Monza, the team has no intention of taking its eye off the ball and has enlisted the services of Jacques Villeneuve and Alexander Wurz for the Belgian event which will give them race practice and strengthen the bonds between its crews.
Peugeot Sport profited from its pre-season press conference to announce its driver line-up both for the Le Mans Series and for the three cars it has entered for the Le Mans 24 Hours. To help the crews of two of these cars prepare for the French race and work with their respective team-mates, Jacques Villeneuve and Alexander Wurz have been called up for the 1,000km de Spa Francorchamps. The Canadian will join Marc Gene and Nicolas Minassian in the N7908 HDi FAP, while Alexander Wurz, who has freed himself from his role as Honda F1's reserve diver, will share the N8 car with its usual pairing, Pedro Lamy and Stephane Sarrazin.
"We had no hesitations when it came to the make-up of the crew of the N7 car," says Peugeot Sport's Team Manager Serge Saulnier. "After their experience at Le Mans in 2007, Nicolas, Marc and Jacques wanted to be together again. Meanwhile, it soon transpired that Alexander has a similar build and diving style to Pedro and Stephane."
Alexander Wurz: "The last time I raced at Spa was in F1 in 2007 with Williams, while my last competitive outing dates back to last year's Chinese Grand Prix. Like most drivers, I love Spa. Its natural setting hugs the contours of the Belgian Ardennes and the only potential difficulty is the weather which can be different in different places round the track.
"I was commentating the Bahrain and Spanish Grands Prix for Austrian TV, so I couldn't follow the 908's runs at Barcelona and Monza, although I was on the internet to get the results as soon as I could. I was eager to see how the Peugeots would compare against the Audis, and I wasn't disappointed! The first time I saw the 908 I wanted to drive it. It looks great and I have been able to see for myself how consistently it has progressed each time I have tested it since the beginning of the year. The 908 sounds different to other cars I have driven because you don't rev so high with a diesel engine, but it's a genuine race car. The performance difference between the cars that race in the Le Mans Series doesn't bother me; it's simply a different sort of challenge. Instead of pushing as hard as possible from start to finish, you have to contend with the 'traffic'."
Jacques Villeneuve: "The last time I raced at Spa was in 2005, so I'm not familiar with the new Bus Stop chicane. I have had some of my scariest moments at Spa following big accidents at Eau Rouge. Apart from that, it's a great circuit that suits the prototypes, and the racing benefits from the fact that it's easy to overtake. That said, following my experience of Le Mans last year, I feel there are too many GT2s and too many unpredictable drivers.
"My most recent competitive outing was the Speedcars race at Bahrain three weeks ago but I was stopped by a puncture after just two laps. When you're a racer, you enjoy racing whatever the car.
"When I first got behind the wheel of the 908 in March earlier this year, I immediately saw how much it has come on since the 2007 Le Mans 24 Hours. The steering is much easier, there is more grip all-round and it is also more powerful. It's a very quick and nimble car, but physically demanding, especially through the fast corners. It might not make that much noise, but I can assure you that it's a real racing car which is very exciting to drive."
Alexander and Jacques will make their Le Mans Series debut with Peugeot which tops the provisional Manufacturers' standings with a two-point lead, while the crews of the N7 and N8 cars are respectively second (Gene/Minassian) and third (Lamy/Sarrazin) in the Drivers' championship. The two crews have one win apiece to their name following the victory of Marc and Nicolas in Spain and the success of Pedro and Stephane in Italy following two particularly close and dramatic races.
The 1,000km de Spa-Francorchamps starts on Sunday May 11 at 12.50pm and features 143 laps of the 7.003km track. Live coverage will be broadcast by Eurosport and Motors TV.