Three Peugeot 908 HDi FAPs on top at Le Mans The 2008 Le Mans 24 Hours kicked off this evening with the first of the week's two qualifying sessions, and the three Peugeot 908 HDi FAPs were immediately on the pace to collect the top...
Three Peugeot 908 HDi FAPs on top at Le Mans
The 2008 Le Mans 24 Hours kicked off this evening with the first of the week's two qualifying sessions, and the three Peugeot 908 HDi FAPs were immediately on the pace to collect the top three places on the provisional grid. Stephane Sarrazin was the fastest man on the track today, posting a blistering 3m 18.513s for Team Peugeot Total with the N8 car. That's almost four seconds quicker than his best effort during the preliminary practice day earlier in the month (3m 22.222s), as well as a stunning improvement of 7.831s over his pole-winning time for Peugeot in 2007.
Team Peugeot Total made its intentions clear from the outset this evening when Pedro Lamy bettered last year's pole time with the N8 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP just two laps into the session, and the French squad's three cars soon emerged at the top of the timesheets.
The star of the first two hours - before darkness fell over the French circuit - was Stephane Sarrazin who followed up an early 3m 20.099s with a 3m 18.513s with just over half an hour remaining before the break. That's the fastest anybody has been round the French track since 1989. Back then, though, the celebrated Hunaudieres Straight had not yet been divided into three sections by the addition of two chicanes! The three 908 HDi FAPs were also all faster than the Peugeot 905's best lap at Le Mans in the hands of Philippe Alliot in 1992 (3m 21.20s).
"My car is incredibly competitive and I was fortunate to find a lap that was relatively free of traffic," reported Sarrazin after setting his fastest lap at an average speed of 247.160kph on medium compound Michelin tyres. "I had a bit of understeer early on but we soon succeeded in curing that, and I think we were especially quick through the faster portions"
Twenty minutes later, fellow Frenchman Franck Montagny (N9 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP) eased into second place with a 3m 20.203s before shaving a further 1.5 seconds off that score next time round (3m 18.682s) to close to within 0.169s of Sarrazin's time. "My Peugeot 908 HDi FAP is just fantastic, and so easy to drive" enthused Montagny. "I hit traffic during my first flying lap on fresh tyres and I asked the team to find me a clearer slot before going out again. Even then, my run wasn't totally free of traffic - Le Mans rarely is - but it came together nicely."
The Team Peugeot Total mechanics had been forced to build a brand new Peugeot 908 HDi FAP for Marc Gene/Nicolas Minassian/Jacques Villeneuve after the original N7 car was destroyed in a spectacular crash at the Courbe Corvette with Gene at the wheel during the preliminary test-day earlier in the month. Minassian rewarded their work with the evening's third best time (3m 20.451s), less than two seconds behind the two sister cars.
MARC GENE (N7 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP): "I didn't have any problems getting back in the rhythm, although I wasn't perhaps as fast as usual through the Courbe Corvette. My back is still hurting a bit and I think that's something I'm going to have to live with all weekend. I have to say that the mechanics did a fantastic job to build such a nicely balanced car capable of securing a top-three position on the provisional grid in such a short time."
Michel BARGE (Director, Peugeot Sport): "It's been a very positive evening for Team Peugeot Total and the outstanding work that everyone in the team has put in since the chequered flag came down on last year's race has been rewarded with the top three times. Stephane (Sarrazin) was in top form, and Nicolas (Minassian) and Franck (Montagny) both put in outstanding performances, too. The crash involving the N7 car during the preliminary test-day gave us the added challenge of having to build a new car in just one week, but the mechanics and technicians did a remarkable job and we gave the car its shakedown run here on the airfield next to the circuit only yesterday evening. It was important to post some quick times tonight because the weather could be unsettled for tomorrow's session. Once that had been done, we were able to concentrate on our programme."
Nicolas MINASSIAN (N7 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP): "We essentially focused on fine-tuning our race set-up without worrying too much about setting a quick qualifying time. The most important thing was to make sure we have a nicely balanced car that suits the styles of Marc, Jacques and myself."
Pedro LAMY (N8 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP): "It was a good evening for us. Following the results of the preliminary test day, we were confident we could post a quick qualifying lap, so the main thing now is to concentrate on the race. There is no doubt that we have progressed on all fronts since last year, from the aerodynamic package to the engine and the chassis."