Class podium for Saulnier Racing at Le Mans 24 Hours
Saulnier Racing celebrated a superb Le Mans 24 Hours podium for their LMP2 Pescarolo Judd after a hugely impressive display from their young driver line up of Mathieu Lahaye, Pierre Ragues and Cong Fu Cheng.
Third in class for the #35 car behind the Porsche RS Spyders of Van Merksteijn Motorsport and Team Essex was a fine achievement for the team and for the Pescarolo Automobiles Group's LMP2 car, which was making its debut at La Sarthe. It ran perfectly for much of the race, although the team had a late scare just before midday on Sunday when a tyre deflated due to a faulty valve and caused Lahaye to have a sizeable accident with a GT2 Ferrari. However, a superb job by the LMP2 Saulnier Racing mechanics helped by the LMP1 ones meant they repaired the car, replacing the rear wing, left rear axle, extractor, left rear suspension and engine cover, in just 30 minutes. The speed of the repairs ensured they rejoined well clear of the fourth placed ASM Lola to take richly deserved podium.
"All of the guys in the team and all three drivers fully deserve this podium because we've narrowly missed out twice in the Le Mans Series this season," said Team Manager Francois Sicard. "I am hugely impressed by the mature performance of the drivers. They are all young men who have graduated from single seaters, yet they have changed their mindsets to endurance racing seamlessly."
Lahaye revealed his relief at the podium after originally thinking the accident was his fault. "I thought I'd made a mistake and felt absolutely terrible. When the team told me later that they'd found the faulty valve, I was so relieved. To be on the podium here is the best feeling I have ever had and I still can't believe it. It's extraordinary."
Cheng created history on Saturday morning when he became the first Chinese driver to ever start this famous race and stamped his name firmly in his country's record books by becoming the first of his countryman to finish and stand on the podium. "I'm so proud for my country," he said. "I'm thrilled to have played my part for this team and my two team mates, as they are both excellent drivers and I didn't want to let them down. We've become great friends and I'm sure we'll stay in touch on Facebook! This is such a hard race even more than I ever imagined. It's not so much the physical effort but a mental one and that makes it very, very tiring." Ragues was also thrilled: "The team did a fantastic job after the accident because I got in the car and it felt perfect. Standing on the podium at Le Mans alongside the drivers from Porsche is a dream for me and gives me huge belief for the future. My head is still full of the race and I think it will take a while for me to come back down to earth!"
Meanwhile, the #4 LMP1 car of Jacques Nicolet, Richard Hein and Marc Faggionato finished the race 12th in class, just short of their target of the top ten.
The car had issues with brakes and the team had to replace a rear axle during the night, while a crash at Tertre Rouge on cold tyres caused considerable damage. Again the mechanics helping each other out did a great job. However all three drivers were delighted to take the chequered flag at Le Mans for the first time.
Nicolet said: "I am very proud of the entire team and of the Pescarolo Automobiles Group. I know exactly how hard they have worked over the last few months to get both cars ready for this race, and for both to complete the race is a just reward. From a personal perspective, I am very happy to share my first Le Mans 24 Hours finish alongside my two friends."
-credit: saulnier racing