L.Duval finishes 8th overall on first-ever Le Mans attempt, running with prestigious French team!
Loic Duval, who entered the Le Mans 24 Hours for the first time as a member of Team Oreca Matmut, drove the No. 5 Courage Oreca LC70 along with Soheil Ayari and Laurent Groppi. Duval maintained a strong pace despite occasional rainfall, with steady driving, rarely seen in a first-timer, on his way to taking the checkered flag in 8th place overall.
Official qualifying for the Le Mans 24 Hours involves two sessions from 19:00-21:00 and 22:00-00:00, spanning the Wednesday and Thursday before the race.
However, Loic's team was greeted by bad luck on Thursday, June 12th when the second day of qualifying began. Laurent Groppi lost control of the No. 5 Courage Oreca LC70E at the Michelin chicane, crashing into the guardrails. The machine was damaged and stopped in the middle of the track. Fortunately, Groppi was not injured, but the accident brought out the red flags, stopping the session.
Despite the accident, the best time for the No.5 was the 10th (3:30'490) recorded by Le Mans veteran Ayari, this being his 7th time at the La Sarthe circuit. The team's other car, the No.6 Courage Oreca LC70E (Olivier Panis, Marcel Fassler, Simon Pagenaud) set a best time of 3:31'243, recorded by Panis, to grab 13th on the grid for the start.
The Le Mans 24 Hours was again a heated battle among the diesel-powered machines such as the Audi R10 TDI and Peugeot 908 TDi FAP, but the petrol-powered cars also gained some attention. Teams expected to do well included Pescarolo Sport, Team Oreca, and the Dome Racing Team from Japan.
On Saturday June 14th at 15:00, the legendary 24-hour race finally began! As expected, the Peugeots went ahead, with the Audis trailing. The 6 diesel machines were exceptionally fast, continuing to drive at a record pace originally set in 1970 on the 6km straight, before the two chicanes were installed. The No.5 car, with Ayari as starting driver was at 10th at the first hour. It battled with the Pescarolo and Dome entries for the top position among the petrol-powered cars, and was up to 6th overall after 4 hours.
However, around the time the clock ticked past midnight, Team Oreca experienced a number of unfortunate incidents. The No.6 car crashed and retired. Then the No.5 ran into gearbox problems. Repair work slowed them down a bit, but the No.6 remained in the top 10. Once night fell at Le Mans, rain started to fall intermittently, making the conditions harsher. At dawn, the starter motor of Ayari, Groppi and Loic's No. 5 car had to be changed, though they maintained pace and their position of 9th. The track surface was slippery, causing many cars to go offline and spin off track. Loic was assigned the night session and showed excellent stability in his driving. An hour and a half away from the finish, minor problems were found with the clutch, leading Loic back to the pits. However, the mechanics completed a speedy repair to return his machine back on track without too much delay. The No.5 continued to drive consistently to finish 8th at 15:00 on Sunday June 15th.
Loic Duval:"I don't think 8th overall and 2nd among the petrol-powered cars is bad at all. I'm also very happy that we were able to meet our goal of finishing. This was my first time at Le Mans, but if the night had been dry, there really wouldn't have been anything to be afraid of. After all, my best times were set at night. There were minor problems with the gearbox, starter and clutch, but it's a great feat to complete the race with the team. It was a great thing for me to enter the Le Mans 24 Hours with a team like Oreca, and I am truly grateful to the team and sponsors. I hope that a year from now, I will be back."