Saulnier goes with Mazda power for 2009

The good news keeps coming for the European-based Le Mans Series, as Saulnier Racing announced Friday that it will expand its operations to campaign two LM P2-class Pescarolo Mazda MZR-Rs next season. The French squad led by Jacques Nicolet has gained the backing of Mazda France for an assault on the 2009 championship.

#35 Saulnier Racing Pescarolo Judd: Pierre Ragues, Matthieu Lahaye, Congfu Cheng.
Photo by Tom Haapanen.

"Our alliance with Mazda is crucial for the development of our team in the LMP2 category," Nicolet said. "We are very proud to be working alongside the only Japanese constructor to have triumphed at the Le Mans 24 Hours and we are confident that this partnership will be very beneficial to the future of our team."

Nicolet and company hope to continue Mazda's legacy at Circuit de La Sarthe, as the Nevers-based team will also submit two entries for the twice-around-the-clock June classic. In 2008, the team's sole P2 entry of Pierre Ragues, Mathieu Lahaye and Cong Fu Cheng finished third in class.

In addition to its strong run at Le Mans, the team proved its consistency in the Le Mans Series. Ragues and Lahaye came home fourth in the P2 championship, which included a runner-up finish in the Nurburgring 1000km. Saulnier Racing also fielded a LM P1-class Pescarolo Judd in 2008 with mixed results.

Saulnier Racing, a joint owner in Pescarolo Automobiles, is the second Le Mans Series team to confirm running the Mazda MZR-R power plant next year. Last month, RML inked a deal to use the AER-developed four-cylinder, two-liter turbo in its Lola B08/86. Kruse-Schiller Motorsport, which ran a Mazda MZR-R-powered Lola B05/40 last year, is likely to return in 2009, possibly with Lola's new closed-top chassis.

"We consider endurance racing to be a fantastic opportunity to develop the reputation of our brand and showcase the sporty and modern characteristics of our range in a competitive sporting environment," said Thierry Guillemot, President of Mazda Automobiles France. "We were attracted to Saulnier Racing by the passion which runs throughout the team as well as by their results in 2008 and by the enterprising spirit of Jacques Nicolet."

Drivers for Saulnier's two Mazda-powered Pescarolos will be named at a later date. It's expected that Pescarolo Sport, Saulnier's sister team, will announce its plans soon. The Henri Pescarolo-led team had conducted preliminary tests with a production-based BMW engine tuned by Sodemo, but the GT2-based powerplant would only be eligible for P2 competition.