This year, French teams are back in force and again looking for the overall win in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The last French marque to take the overall crown on the 8.5-mile Circuit de La Sarthe came over ten years ago, and it was Peugeot. The question on everyone's minds is can they do it again?
Peugeot returned to Le Mans - and the Le Mans Series - in 2007. The 5.5-litre diesel-powered Team Peugeot Total 908 Hdi-FAP was designed to take on the all-conquering Audi and win. It started well with its debut in the 2007 1000km of Monza. The pair of 908s were very quick in qualifying, managing to take the top two spots by over a second. During the race the Peugeot led nearly the entire race, although the No. 8 car of Pedro Lamy and Stephane Sarrazin suffered numerous difficulties with its doors, leaving them to finish third. The No. 908 of Marc Gene and Nicolas Minassian however, held on to take victory in the 908's first competitive outing. At the next round at Valencia, the No. 8 car took the win.
Peugeot earned the pole position at Le Mans last year with a 3:26.344 lap set by Sarrazin, ahead of the Audi. The No. 8 Peugeot managed to finish second to the mighty Audi R10 TDI after covering 359 laps. The No. 7 sister car retired from the race in the final hour due to engine failure.
The 908 opened the 2008 European season with a victory in Catalunya, marking the first time a 908 has beaten an R10 TDI. The team followed that up with another win over the R10s, this time at the Spa 1000km.
For Le Mans race in 2008, Peugeot Sport are running three cars. The No. 7 car will be driven by Minassian, Gene and Jacques Villeneuve whilst the No. 8 car will have Sarrazin, Lamy and Alexander Wurz at the controls. The No. 9 car will be driven by Franck Montagny, Ricardo Zonta and Christian Klien.
Beyond the might of the Peugeot works team, Pescarolo Sport team owner Henri Pescarolo has an enormous amount of racing experience. He participated in 64 Formula One World Championship Grand Prixs, debuting on September 22, 1968. He achieved one podium finish, and scored a total of 12 championship points. He clocked up 33 Le Mans starts and has won the race on four occasions as a driver.
Pescarolo started his own company, initially called the Pescarolo Promotion Racing Team, in the town of Le Mans in 2000. He recorded a respectable ninth placed finish in his first race as a team owner and decided to retire from driving duties at Le Mans to concentrate on the team. He has yet to win the race as a team owner despite coming very close in 2005 with the Pescarolo C60H. His team did manage to win the Le Mans Series championship in the same year. His team was second at Le Mans in 2006, followed by a third in 2007.
This year Pescarolo Sport has entered two factory cars. The No.16 car driven by Emmanuel Collard, Jean-Christophe Boullion and Romain Dumas, while the No. 17 car is driven by Christophe Tinseau, Benot Treluyer and Harold Primat. Saulnier Racing and Rollcentre Racing will additionally run Pescarolo customer cars.
Saulnier Racing enters with a LMP1 Pescarolo Judd driven by Jacques Nicolet, Marc Faggionato and Richard Hein and a LMP2 Pescarolo Judd with Pierre Ragues, Mathieu Lahaye and Cong Fu Cheng at the wheel.
Team Oreca-Matmut has two Courage-Oreca LC70 Judd cars both featuring an all-French driver line-up. Soheil Ayari, Loic Duval and Laurent Groppi in the No. 5 car and Nicolas Lapierre, Olivier Panis and Simon Pagenaud in the No. 6 car. The French team, founded and run by Hugues de Chaunac, has achieved success in motorsport since the early 90s.
Oreca, based near the Paul Ricard circuit in Southern France, originally ran the works BMW operation in the French Supertourisme Championship. Oreca subsequently won the FIA GT Championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours in the GT2 class with a Chrysler Viper GTS-R before moving into the prototype ranks with factory Chryler Dallaras and a French-supported Audi R8 effort in 2005. De Chaunac had stated intensions to build his own Le Mans Prototype in 2009. Last September, Oreca purchased French manufacturer Courage Comptition in a bid to fulfil the dream.
French squad Barazi-Epsilon are entering a LMP2 Zytek 07S/2 with Michael Vergers, Juan Barazi and Stuart Moseley, while Larbre Competition enter a Saleen S7-R for Christophe Bouchut, David Smet and Patrick Bornhauser.
French former alpine skier Luc Alphand and his team Luc Alphand Aventures have entered two Chevrolet Corvette C6.Rs in the LM GT1 category. The No. 72 features Luc Alphand himself driving along with Guillaume Moreau and Jerome Policand. The No. 73 car will be driven by Jean-Luc Blanchemain, Laurent Pasquali and Patrice Goueslard.
IMSA Performance Matmut, another French team, will race in an LM GT2 with a Porsche 997 GT3-RSR. Raymond Narac, Patrick Long and Richard Lietz will be at the wheel.
To add to the equation, the Frenchmen driving for non-French teams such as Alexandre Premat No. 3 Audi Sport Team Joest, Stephan Gregoire in the No. 18 Rollcentre Racing Pescarolo Judd, Marc Rostan in the No. 26 Team Bruichladdich Radical SR9 AER, Olivier Pla in the No. 40 Quifel ASM Team Lola B05/40, Claude-Yves Gosselin in the No. 41 Trading Performance Zytek 07S/2, Jean de Pourtales and Jean-Francois Yvon in the No. 42 Kruse Schiller Motorsport Lola B07/46 Mazda as well as Alain Ferte and Stephane Daoudi No. 99 JMB Racing Ferrari F430 GT2. With such a strong showing, the chances of the French spectators having something to celebrate go up even further.
The last time a Frenchman won was back in 1999 when Yannick Dalmas drove to victory in the Team BMW Motorsport BMW V12 LMR. To find the last time a French team won, you have to go back to the Peugeot Talbot Sport Peugeot 905 Evo 1B victory in 1993. Perhaps this year that will change.