Spa: Peugeot race report

A promising fourth one-two finish Team Peugeot Total's final full-scale dress rehearsal ahead of the 2010 Le Mans 24 Hours ended in the squad's fourth straight one-two finish, with Spa-Francorchamps providing the backdrop to a race that was ...

A promising fourth one-two finish

Team Peugeot Total's final full-scale dress rehearsal ahead of the 2010 Le Mans 24 Hours ended in the squad's fourth straight one-two finish, with Spa-Francorchamps providing the backdrop to a race that was particularly rich in valuable lessons, dramatic turnarounds and heart-stopping thrills.

An action-packed race

The weekend's weather and the day's variety of unexpected incidents lived up every bit to the Belgian circuit's reputation. The first drops of rain that fell as the cars were lined up on the grid gave cause for concern, and the start itself provided the day's first drama. Pedro Lamy started from pole-position in the No.3 car but a small mistake at the first turn dropped him to ninth overall. Meanwhile, first time up Le Raidillon, the Oreca-run 908 was hit from behind and eliminated from the race just after an early safety car intervention. Working to the latest safety car-related regulations which were not applied with the greatest of precision proved a complex exercise! As a result, although the three Peugeot 908 HDi FAPs had topped the leaderboard, the No.7 Audi suddenly found itself in front after pitting with an advantage of almost a minute because the red light at the pit-lane exit had not been switched on!

The race red flagged...

With its determination undented, Team Peugeot Total fine-tuned its strategy and upped its pace, both in the pits and on the racetrack, with a view to making up the gap. Its bid was interrupted when an electricity power-cut affected the region and compelled the organisers to suspend the race for safety reasons. It was a godsend for Franck Montagny who was able to pit for repairs after going off in the No.2 Peugeot, just before the red flag was shown.

The Frenchman was able to rejoin, albeit a lap down, and he then proceeded to beat the fastest race lap on several occasions. Indeed, he was the only driver to get beneath the two-minute barrier, despite having been in the car for almost 3½ hours!

An exceptional end to the race

The second part of the race provided spectators with a thrilling fight as the Peugeot drivers did everything in their power to haul in the front-running Audi. Sebastien Bourdais, then second overall in the No.3 car, managed to bridge the gap to Capello on Lap 64. That sparked off a breathtaking scrap between the two drivers which led to some exceptionally virile passing manoeuvres before the Peugeot ultimately took command on Lap 71. Sebastien then handed over to Simon Pagenaud who valiantly defended his advantage, despite a rain shower an hour before the finish. He took the risk of staying out on medium- compound tyres in the delicate conditions, unlike his Audi rival who opted for 'intermediates'. This gamble, which was guided by the advice provided by Meteo France, paid off handsomely, since Pagenaud, Bourdais and Lamy went on to win by more than a minute. It was Bourdais' first victory with Peugeot which has now gone unbeaten at Spa since 2007.

Stephane Sarrazin also stayed out on slicks in the No.2 Peugeot, although he did switch to soft tyres as he called on every bit of his talent to home in on the Audi. He passed the German machine two laps from home to secure Team Peugeot Total's fourth consecutive one-two finish after Le Mans and Petit Le Mans in 2009, and last March's visit to Sebring. The No.1 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP shared by Marc Gene, Anthony Davidson and Alexander Wurz finished just shy of the podium after a mistake by Marc Gene with half an hour remaining caused by the highly delicate track conditions. After winning the 12 Hours of Sebring, the trio played another front-running role which saw it figure at the top of the order on occasions.

And now on to Le Mans...

With a month to go until the big race, Team Peugeot Total will take time to savour today's win, but without taking its eye off the ball in any way. Once everyone is back at the workshops in Velizy, what happened at Spa will be analysed in detail. The 908s will then be stripped and carefully rebuilt before travelling to Le Mans for scrutineering on Sunday, June 6 at 2:30pm.

Quotes:

Olivier QUESNEL: "This is Team Peugeot Total's fourth consecutive one-two finish! It was a very interesting race, despite the fact that the regulations concerning the safety car interventions were poorly complied with by the officials. I hope that between now and Le Mans, we can get this area sorted out so that it doesn't impact on the result. The three Peugeot 908 HDi FAPs were very competitive and their different crews worked very well together, which is a good pointer for the Le Mans 24 Hours. Our strategy here was very effective, thanks in part to Meteo France for the first class information it provided us with. Today's result is the fruit of our preparation work over the winter, but we haven't lost sight of the fact that our overriding objective is still Le Mans, in a month's time."

Sebastien BOURDAIS: "It was a very close race and the conditions were very difficult, although they were more complex for my team-mates than they were for me. Our car was vey nicely balanced, and they succeeded in keeping it on the track. After finishing second at Le Mans and at Sebring, it's great to have won at last with Peugeot. I hope that's a good sign ahead of Le Mans. Pedro and Simon both did great jobs in what were very challenging conditions."

Pedro LAMY: "The track was very slippery when the race started and I went wide at La Source which dropped us down the order a bit. That inspired me to fight back, however, and I succeeded in keeping up a strong pace. Our car was excellent;, and that's what helped us make our way back up the leaderboard."

Simon PAGENAUD: "I must thank my two team-mates. Their work made my job easier! I took over in the car while we were in the lead and it turned out to be one of the most memorable races of my career. The first part of my stint was relatively easy, but then things became more difficult, especially through the damp portions when it started to rain. My race engineer provided me with just the information I needed to steer clear of the drops..."

Franck MONTAGNY: "My stint lasted more than 3 hours. Just before the race was interrupted, I hit a tyre wall trying to avoid a slower car and I was forced to pit to change the front and rear covers, as well as the rear crash box. The guys did a fantastic job to enable us to achieve today's result. When Stephane took over, he did a remarkable job to fight his way up to second place at the flag."

Stephane SARRAZIN: "I could hardly wait for my turn to get in the car! I pushed very hard when the track was dry just before the safety-car came out for the last time, as well as when the track was drying towards the finish. The rain at the end complicated the picture somewhat and I had to cope with running on soft-compound tyres. At the end of the day, it's a fantastic result which we would like to share with Nicolas Minassian who will be back with us at Le Mans."

Alexander WURZ: "It was a drama-packed race, and great practice for us ahead of Le Mans. To tell the truth, I've never been lucky here at Spa, but I'm all the more fired up now for Le Mans!"

-source: peugeot

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About this article
Series European Le Mans
Drivers Franck Montagny , Nicolas Minassian , Marc Gene , Alexander Wurz , Stéphane Sarrazin , Pedro Lamy , Sébastien Bourdais , Simon Pagenaud