A QUALIFYING CLEAN-SWEEP FOR PEUGEOT IN CHINA
Team Peugeot Total has succeeded in qualifying its two cars on the front row at Zhuhai to boost its chances of securing Manufacturers' title in the inaugural Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC). Thanks to the 36-point gap it has opened up following one-two finishes in each of the two rounds contested to date, the French squad basically only needs to get one 908 HDi FAP to the finish on Sunday afternoon to claim the title. Even so, the team's sole objective tomorrow is outright victory.
The fastest time during Saturday afternoon's 20-minute qualifying session was the work of Stéphane Sarrazin in the N°2 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP. The Frenchman's performance takes the team's score to five pole-positions (Sebring, Spa, Le Mans, Road Atlanta and Zhuhai) from six starts in 2010.
Sarrazin profited from the dry early conditions to record a time of 1m 21.868s on his very first flying lap. He eventually emerged more than a second clear of his team-mate Simon Pagenaud (1m 22.953s), but the two Frenchmen finished well ahead of the rest of the field to monopolise the front row of tomorrow's grid.
Sarrazin and the N°2 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP on pole...
The beginning of the session saw the track begin to dry slightly after recent heavy rain. Pagenaud was the first driver to go out on the stroke of 3pm before posting his best effort on the second lap of his first two-lap run. Running on identical intermediate pattern tyres, Sarrazin left the pits slightly later but was quick off the mark to go to the top of the order thanks to his first flying lap.
Despite lingering hopes of a clear window later in the session, the return of rain put an end to the two drivers' bid to improve on their early efforts, and the final timesheet put the Peugeot pair on the front row ahead of their main LMP1 rivals.
Stéphane Sarrazin, pole-winner (N°2 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP): "This is the last competitive outing for the 908 and, as the only driver here to have been involved in the project since the very start, I really wanted to qualify on pole today. For me, there was no other possible scenario. The ideal moment to post a quick time was right at the very beginning of the session before it started to rain again, and I produced my best effort on my first flying lap. It was a very short window, but I got in a clear run and didn't make any mistakes."
Simon Pagenaud, 2nd (N°1 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP): "Congratulations to Stéphane. It started to drizzle at the end of my first flying lap and I thought maybe I would be lucky and be the only driver to get in a mostly dry run. That's not how it turned out, however. Okay, I would have preferred to be on pole tomorrow, but first and second this afternoon is a great result for the team. We've locked the front row, and that puts us in a very strong position."
Although the return of sunny weather is forecast for the race, the Zhuhai region (Guangdong province) on China's southeast coast has been predominantly wet all week, making the team's preparations especially complex for this circuit which is being visited by the world of endurance racing for the very first time.
"A strong performance in qualifying was particularly important here at Zhuhai because the track is quite narrow, with mainly short straights and very few opportunities to overtake," observes Peugeot Sport's Technical Director Bruno Famin. "As a consequence, given the rapidly shifting conditions this afternoon, it was a case of making sure we were on the track at the right time and on the right tyres. This venue is new to us, so we had a great deal to learn about the track. Our original programme was upset by the rain so, if the weather does improve tomorrow, it will be a case of coming out of it as well as we can. That said, our rivals are in exactly the same situation..."
Live TV in the world's biggest automobile market
Grid positions in endurance racing are considered by some to be of secondary importance ahead of races that can last between six and 24 hours. However, with Sunday's start due to be screened live on television in many countries across the world, including on several channels in China, claiming pole position at Zhuhai was a major objective for Peugeot in this strategically vital market. "In addition to the fact that it promises to be tough to overtake during the race, starting from the front is a big bonus for us in promotional terms," says the Director of Peugeot Sport, Olivier Quesnel. "It is especially nice to have qualified ahead of Audi which has an established footing here in China, whereas Peugeot is a relative newcomer to the market. For the same reason, despite the fact that we only need to finish to clinch the ILMC title, our target tomorrow will be to win the race in order to showcase the brand's winning technology to the local audience." Sunday's 1000km of Zhuhai starts at 12:00 noon (local time/CST). Franck Montagny will start from pole position in the N°2 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP, while Sébastien Bourdais will line up beside his fellow Frenchman in the N°1 sister car.