MICHELIN HAPPY WITH PROGRESS AT HALF-DISTANCE
Night has fallen on the Le Mans 24-Hours circuit, and as always the drivers have had to re-adjust and inevitably some have been caught out. At midnight, with the number 7 Minassian-Gene-Villeneuve Peugeot out in front from the McNish-Kristensen-Capello Audi, the race was neutralised following the accident involving the Courage-Oreca driven by Marcel Fassler. The field g ot back to racing after 23 minutes under the Safety Car. At one in the morning the number 7 Peugeot still led from the number 2 Audi. In third place came the Klien-Montagny- Zonta number 9 Peugeot ahead of the other two four-ringed prototypes. Some way back was the Treluyer - Tinseau-Premat Pescarolo from the number 5 Courage-Oreca. At two o'clock the order was unchanged : Gene's number 7 Peugeot was still skipping away from the number 2 Audi, while the two other Audis were giving chase to the Montagny-Klien-Zonta Peugeot 908. At three, still no change and Michelin was still ahead in all four classes.
Every reason, then, for Michelin and their 4-wheel competition manager Matthieu Bonardel to feel happy with their work so far. "At last we've managed to get in the long runs that we missed out on in practice, " he said. "And what they have shown us is that double-stinting is fine for the GT cars, and some of them, like the Ferrari in GT2 and the GT1 Astons, have really got on with it. In fact things are going better in GT than in previous years and this year's performance level is also up. In LMP2, as the night wore on they switched from medium tyres to soft, and the Michelins made it possible to run double and even triple stints. We've had very positive feedback from the teams on the balance and performance lap after lap. As for the LMP1's, they all started on mediums and then switched to softs. The petrol prototypes were soon doing triple stints, with no performance drop-off at the end of the third one. Among the diesels, Audi decided to stay with two stints and Pedro Lamy in the number 8 Peugeot even managed to take it out to three."
Despite all that, are there any little worries ?
"Very early on we had some little punctures, which was very frustrating, but on the other hand we didn't get the usual flood of them around midnight. We can put up with these annoying little things, and they didn't lose the teams much time or cause any safety issues for the crews. "
Stil some concerns, though, notably with the weather ?
"That's true -- what will happen when the temperature drops even further ? At half-distance track temperature was 16 degrees ; we expect it to go down another 4 or 5 degrees in the coming hours, and that's not exactly the ideal performance window for soft tyres. We're heading into uncharted territory a little bit, and of course we've got one eye firmly fixed on the weather forecast, wodering if those showers will come along as the morning goes on."