Le Castellet 8 Hours: a disappointment but some positive points After setting pole in its first qualifying session the day before, the Team ORECA-Matmut Peugeot 908 HDi FAP had set itself an objective for the Le Castellet 8 Hours - prepare...
Le Castellet 8 Hours: a disappointment but some positive points
After setting pole in its first qualifying session the day before, the Team ORECA-Matmut Peugeot 908 HDi FAP had set itself an objective for the Le Castellet 8 Hours - prepare for the Le Mans 24 Hours against a field of quality rivals led by the Audi R15 Plus. The 908 HDi FAP in the hands of Olivier Panis, Nicolas Lapierre and Stephane Sarrazin was fulfilling its mission, until a mechanical problem at the end of the first hour deprived the car of a good result. After this was repaired, the drivers had a fault- free race showing a level of competitiveness equal to that of the Audi as they fought their way from thirty-fifth to fourth place!
Panis and Lapierre were backed up for the first round of the Le Mans Series by Peugeot works driver Stephane Sarrazin, and they continued getting to grips with the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP in race conditions. Like the whole engineering team, they gained a lot of experience in traffic management, the evolution of the car's behavior in their stints, refuelling etc. Before the Spa 1000kms in May, and above all the Le Mans 24 Hours, the Team ORECA- Matmut has recorded a great deal of useful information for the rest of the season.
The Peugeot was on pole and as the cars thundered down to the first corner it was side-by-side with the Audi R15 Plus. Stephane Sarrazin held onto the lead but lost grip a few corners further on. The Lola-Aston Martin nipped by into the lead briefly before being overtaken by the Audi and the 908 HDi FAP. Sarrazin managed to keep the gap to McNish steady at around ten seconds before reducing it slightly at the end of his stint. During his pit stop the team saw that there was a problem with the air jack. Fixing it took eighteen minutes and the French car rejoined the race ten laps behind the leaders - a gap that was more or less the same at the finish. In the seven hours remaining, Stephane, Nicolas and Olivier were on level pegging with the R15 Plus whose pace they were able to match. They made a fantastic comeback from thirty-fifth picking off their rivals one by one to see the chequered flag in fourth place.
Hugues de Chaunac, ORECA Group President: "It's a bit disappointing, but there are several positive points too after our first race with the Peugeot 908 HDI FAP. The result is a disappointment as we had a car that enabled us to take the fight to Audi. We failed to analyse the problem with the air jack correctly and that lost us time. The performance of the 908 HDi FAP and its drivers are the positive points of the day. Olivier, Nicolas and Stephane all did a great job, and this is what we're all happy about."
David Floury, technical director: "It's been an enriching experience from several points of view. We know we're on the pace. The drivers are competitive, but that we already knew. Without the problem, we wouldn't have finished the race in fourth position, but sometimes you learn more from your setbacks than from your successes."
Stephane Sarrazin (Peugeot 908 HDI FAP -Team ORECA-Matmut) 4th: "Both the team and the drivers have done a good job. The problem with the air jack spoilt our race, but we're on the pace of the Audi. Personally speaking, it was a great opportunity for me to get back into the swing of things and to find my marks in traffic. I was delighted to be back behind the wheel and also to work with the Team ORECA again. It was my first time with Olivier and Nicolas and we got on very well - almost like with my usual team-mates, in fact!"
Nicolas Lapierre (Peugeot 908 HDi FAP - Team ORECA-Matmut) 4th: "It's very frustrating. We had the speed to take the fight to the Audi and the race confirmed that we're on the pace. We took advantage of the event to learn about the behavior of the Peugeot in these conditions, and the race has been very valuable in terms of information both for the team and for the drivers. It's good in view of the 24 Hours but it has a slightly bitter taste."
Olivier Panis (Peugeot 908 HDi FAP - Team ORECA-Matmut) 4th: "There's nothing like racing to prepare for Le Mans. I didn't have any particular problems, but the first stint was rather complicated with the glitch with the balance of the car, which didn't really suit me. The second one was more consistent and more positive. It was important to rack up the laps and cover the greatest possible distance in these conditions. I'm not somebody to throw in the towel, so I pushed as hard as I could despite everything. The team too never stopped fighting and that's very positive. We're in the same ballpark as Audi even though we still have more work to do."