BACK TO THE FUTURE It was exactly one year ago that the fledgling 908 HDi FAP notched up an out-of-the-box win at Monza. That victory took even Team Peugeot Total by surprise since it hadn't been expecting such a resounding result first time out.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
It was exactly one year ago that the fledgling 908 HDi FAP notched up an out-of-the-box win at Monza. That victory took even Team Peugeot Total by surprise since it hadn't been expecting such a resounding result first time out. One year on, with a 100% winning record in the Le Mans Series under its belt, Peugeot faces a challenge of a different kind as, race after race, it methodically prepares its bid for success in the 2008 Le Mans 24 Hours. There is still a very long way to go, however, and, given the busy race calendar, the path ahead is peppered with potential pitfalls.
"We really hadn't been expecting today's result because we had never previously covered so many kilometres in one go during testing." That was the reaction of Nicolas Minassian this time last year at the end of the team's first 1,000km race which served to reassure Peugeot Sport regarding the potential of the 908 HDi FAP. It was clearly a well-sorted car but it still had to demonstrate its reliability. That maiden success was followed by an excellent run over the rest of the season, with a score of six wins from six outings in the Le Mans Series, plus a remarkable second place in the Le Mans 24 Hours to provide the icing on the cake. While victory in the French endurance classic wasn't its objective in 2007, Peugeot Sport is today focusing every bit of its energy on improving on last year's result in the 2008 race which takes place on the weekend of June 14-15.
To that end, the technical squad is working intensively on testing and validating its latest new parts, as well as those components that have shown signs of weakness. Indeed, the engine of the car which recently won the 2008 Le Mans Series curtain-raiser in Spain had clocked up a total of 5,500km: 1,500km during the winter test at Sebring, 2,000km in the 12 Hours of Sebring, 500km in testing the day after the American race, and 1,500km at Barcelona. The three LMS fixtures which follow on from each other in quick succession during the early part of the 2008 campaign are all seen as validation tests for Le Mans. Their proximity in the calendar means that each one stands out as a fresh challenge for Peugeot Sport's technical and human resources, and a mechanical problem or an accident has the potential to put the remainder of its development programme off course. "We've already seen that happen," says Technical Director Bruno Famin. "Both our cars suffered at Barcelona. The N8 car chiefly had body damage. More alarming, however, were the consequences of the N7 car being launched into the air. On stripping the car at our Velizy base, we saw that the tub had suffered. It was repairable, but the work took some time, not to mention the sourcing of the necessary parts. We consequently need to take a fresh look at our work schedule with very little time available." The busy start to the 2008 calendar has effectively left the team with little margin for manoeuvre which is clearly penalising its development work upstream of the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Monza is the circuit which most resembles Le Mans, with average speeds in qualifying likely to exceed 220kph and top speeds of around 340kph. Marc Gene and Nicolas Minassian, who won the Italian round in 2007, go to this year's race as provisional championship leaders. Meanwhile, Stephane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy will be looking to make up for their disappointment in Spain where they were fastest both in qualifying and during the 1,000km race but were eliminated from the chase for top spot by race incidents. They finally took the flag in 12th place.
"The 2008 Le Mans Series is very competitive," underlines Peugeot Sport's Director Michel Barge. "We ask Marc, Nicolas, Pedro and Stephane to push as hard as they can for practically six hours. They give so much, yet the conditions aren't always easy, especially in the traffic. They are all battlers, though, as Marc showed at Barcelona where he covered several laps with a completely numb right leg. The 2008 season promises not only to be very tough on the cars, but also on everyone in the team, from the drivers who do such a fantastic job to the mechanics who are preparing so professionally, even at Velizy, so as not to lose a single second during tyre changes."
Peugeot Sport's technical team, drivers and staff are all under pressure as they prepare for the 2008 Le Mans 24 Hours and, to this end, as announced in Catalonia, a third driver will join the regular Le Mans Series crews for the next event, the 1,000km de Spa-Francorchamps on May 11. Alexander Wurz will share the N8 car with Pedro Lamy and Stephane Sarrazin, while Jacques Villeneuve will join his 2007 Le Mans team-mates Marc Gene and Nicolas Minassian in the N7 machine.
Before then, note that the 1,000km di Monza starts at 12.50 on Sunday April 27 and will be broadcast by Eurosport and Motors TV.