Peugeot still leads as final hours beckon

Peugeot still leads as final hours beckon

Another four hours down, two more to go and still the same leader in this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans: the factory ...

Another four hours down, two more to go and still the same leader in this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans: the factory #9 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP, now driven by Marc Gene.

#9 Team Peugeot Total Peugeot 908: Alexander Wurz, David Brabham, Marc Gene.
Photo by Tom Haapanen.

The Spaniard, co-driving with David Brabham and Alexander Wurz, have completed 340 laps of the Circuit de la Sarthe and lead their teammates, the all-French driver lineup in car #8, by one lap.

Peugeot recovered from a flawed start with a pit incident between the #7 and #17 Peugeots, one from the factory and the customer Pescarolo Peugeot, to lead the majority of this race with either car 8 or car 9.

In contrast, it's been a difficult day for Audi and the problems have compounded within the last three hours for the usually bulletproof factory effort. The R15 TDI has gone to the garage to have the radiators cleaned, and other mechanical tweaks made.

As of noon local time, the #1 Audi driven by defending race champions Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Rinaldo Capello has lost six laps, roughly 20 minutes on track. The car still currently runs third in the final podium position, but any additional problems might allow an opportunity for the Aston Martin Racing Eastern Europe entry to sneak onto the podium.

Car 007 in the hands of Jan Charouz, Tomas Enge and Stefan Mucke are currently head of the petrol-powered vehicles. What the team has lacked in fuel mileage and torque off the corners, it has made up for with persistence in the V12-powered Lola B09/60 Aston Martin.

The battle between the Speedy Racing Team Sebah #13 Lola Aston Martin coupe (the old Charouz entry) and the #14 Kolles Audi R15 TDI has gone the way of Speedy Racing. For a while Neel Jani and Kolles' ironman Charles Zwolsman, each a former Champ Car driver, were engaged in a dice for the sixth position.

Aston Martin Racing and Kolles had incidents with their other cars in the same time period. The #009 Lola Aston Martin, reduced to a two-driver lineup of Peter Kox and Harald Primat following the exclusion of Stuart Hall from the remainder of the race, had a massive shunt at Porsche Curve. Primat lost the rear and beat up both the front and rear of the car.

The incident brought out the race's fourth safety car period. Under that period, the #15 Kolles Audi driven by Christian Bakkerud spun out, contacting the barrier on the Mulsanne straight and needing the front bodywork replaced.

"I just lost it but even after that the car was not bad, we just replaced the bodywork," Bakkerud said. "I think the team's done an amazing job, especially to get everything together and sorted out for this race."

Charles Zwolsman.
Photo by Tom Haapanen.

Zwolsman exited his car on the most recent pit stop, tired but like Bakkerud, now done for the day after an incredible performance. He had to manage the tires throughout the battle with Jani and fell off as the team was completing a quadruple-stint, normal for them this race. He also said he hadn't spoken to his lone co-driver, Andre Lotterer, as yet.

"We had a tire problem with the balance of the tires, and took it easy to finish the stints with this problem," Zwolsman recounted. "I throttled back a bit, as I was totally unbalanced, shaking a lot in the car! It's funny I haven't spoken to him but I can just tell he's doing well. When he's in the car, I'm not and vice versa."

As of 12:30 local time with two and a half hours remaining, Zwolsman and Jani have handed off their cars to Lotterer and Andrea Belicchi, though the Lola appears to have the measure of the Audi of late.

P2 held steady with the two Porsche RS Spyders pacing the field. GT1 finally had a battle after hours of just cruising around, as the lead between the two factory Corvettes changed hands several times. Johnny O'Connell and Marcel Fassler were dicing and swapping back-and-forth, giving the fans something to behold. Before that it was Antonio Garcia and Olivier Beretta doing the honors.

Unfortunately that battle has ended and it appears the #63, down Jan Magnussen for the last few hours due to an illness, will secure the class victory in the GT1 swansong. The #64 broke down with apparent transmission issues, Fassler still driving, just at the entrance to pit lane. The #73 Luc Alphand Corvette is currently six laps back.

"It's such a great shame, I think a transmission problem," Oliver Gavin of the #64 said. "It looked like something internally in the gearbox. Hopefully we get it back and see if we can put it back together for the finish, but it shoots us for winning."

GT2 is currently three Ferraris, the Risi, the BMS Scuderia Italia and the AF Corse cars on the podium. The lone remaining Porsche, the IMSA Performance 911, has just struggled to limp back to the pits.

The final two hours appear more a battle of survival than anything else.

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Series LEMANS