The NÂ°8 Peugeot HDi FAP on provisional pole at Le Mans Le Mans week action kicked off this evening with the first official practice session which saw Team Peugeot Total claim the fastest and third fastest times in the dying ...
The N°8 Peugeot HDi FAP on provisional pole at Le Mans
Le Mans week action kicked off this evening with the first official practice session which saw Team Peugeot Total claim the fastest and third fastest times in the dying seconds. The evening's run was interrupted by two red flag incidents, and was also upset by a brief but heavy thunderstorm that dumped rain over much over the French circuit.
Stéphane Sarrazin (N°8 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP) and Nicolas Minassian (N°7) profited from drying conditions late in the session, however, to post their quickest times in a particularly thrilling finale. Despite the day's successful conclusion, however, the drivers and team management are fully aware that Le Mans is a 24-hour race, and not just a question of posting one fast lap, and everything will be thrown wide open again when practice resumes tomorrow evening.
The two four-hour test sessions organised on the Wednesday and Thursday evenings prior to the weekend's celebrated 24-hour classic are, along with the preliminary test day organised earlier in the month, the only chance teams get to put the finishing touches to their race preparations round the full 13.629km track. The job list traditionally involves fine-tuning the set-ups of the cars in race-trim, completing final systems and fuel consumption checks, and ensuring all drivers cover the mandatory minimum number of night-time laps (three). Plus, if conditions and time allow, attempting to secure the best possible position on the grid for the start of Saturday's race (3pm).
And that is exactly what Team Peugeot Total succeeded in doing this evening in an exciting final flurry of top times that saw Stéphane Sarrazin (N°8 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP) post the quickest lap of the day in the dying seconds of the session. In an all out attempt on his final lap, during which he admitted to being very close to the limit, the Frenchman succeeded in toppling his rivals from top spot with an emphatic 3m 26.344s, while team-mate Nicolas Minassian narrowly failed in his bid to join his team-mate on the front row of the provisional grid.
Minassian and Sarrazin monopolised the driving of their respective cars during the first half of the session before the storm broke. After a short initial run, the two Frenchmen pitted (to fine-tune the set-up in the case of the N°7 car and to make a precautionary rear wheel-bearing change in the case of car N°8) before going back out on fresh rubber. However, despite laps of 3m 29.836s (N°7) and 3m 29.635s (N°8) which put them 4 and 2 respectively on the timesheets both drivers suggested they could have done better had they not been caught in traffic, while Minassian's second flying lap was thwarted when the red flag was shown for the first time.
With lingering damp conditions forcing the team to switch to wet weather tyres, much of the second half of the session was essentially given over to ensuring that Jacques Villeneuve, Marc Gene, Pedro Lamy and Sébastien Bourdais all completed their three obligatory night-time laps. Then, as the track began to dry, Sarrazin and Minassian threw all their strength into their bid to secure the best possible place on the grid...
Michel BARGE (Director, Peugeot Sport): "Everyone was expecting an interesting battle tonight and it's true that it took its time coming. When it did come, though, it turned out to be an extremely sporting fight with the drivers giving absolutely everything they had. But we mustn't allow ourselves to be carried away by this evening's result. There is still tomorrow's practice session to come and we mustn't forget that Le Mans is not decided by the outcome of a single lap but by 24 hours of racing." Bruno FAMIN (Technical Director, Peugeot Sport): "The evening didn't get off to the best of starts. We had to change a rear wheel-bearing on the N°8 car early on, then the session was red flagged, and then it rained... We profited from the break between the two half-sessions to fine-tune the set-ups of the two cars, then patiently waited for the track to dry and I have to say that the end result brought a smile back to our faces. It's obviously nice to be sitting on top of the timesheets this evening, but the weather and the interruptions meant that we weren't able to complete the planned programme, notably the tyres tests we had scheduled."
Stéphane Sarrazin (N°8 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP): "I took a lot of risks at the very end, even when overtaking the slower cars. So much so, in fact, that I forgot to turn for one corner and I found myself driving across a gravel trap! But it was great fun and the team did a fantastic job. The biggest difficulty was finding a clear lap, and I'm glad to say I succeeded in finding a traffic-free slot at the very end."
Nicolas Minassian (N°7 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP): "I'm delighted for Peugeot. Tonight was all about finding a clear lap at the very end but I seemed to come across traffic every time. OK, there's still tomorrow's session to come and we will try to improve our position if we see an opportunity, but there is still a busy programme of work to get through to finish our preparations for the race."