Peugeots set benchmark in practice at Silverstone

Team Peugeot Total has been the team to beat all season long in the Le Mans Series, and things didn't change today at Silverstone as the two French Lions were quickest in practice for Sunday's season finale. The No. 8 Peugeot 908 HDi-FAP of Pedro...

Team Peugeot Total has been the team to beat all season long in the Le Mans Series, and things didn't change today at Silverstone as the two French Lions were quickest in practice for Sunday's season finale. The No. 8 Peugeot 908 HDi-FAP of Pedro Lamy and Stephane Sarrazin turned a 1:31.510 lap time around the historic 5.14-km Grand Prix circuit, besting last year's qualifying record by over a second.

Peugeot heads into the 1000-km race with a slim lead in both the drivers' and manufacturers' championship. Nicolas Minassian and Marc Gene hold a two-point margin over Audi's Mike Rockenfeller and Alexandre Premat, while the French marque has a six-point advantage over the German rings in the manufacturers' title fight. Audi has yet to win a Series race this season, and if practice speeds have any indication, it will be another tough row to hoe for the Team Joest squad.

Rockenfeller and Premat, in the No. 2 Audi Sport Team Joest R10 TDI, were third-quickest on the day, trailing the second-quickest No. 7 Peugeot of Minassian and Gene by over two seconds. Allan McNish and Dindo Capello wound up fourth overall, but was quickest in the rain-soaked afternoon practice session. Nobody was able to get anywhere close to the times they ran in the morning, although McNish's lap time of 1:51.785 set late in wet session was four seconds quicker than any other competitor.

On top of the fight for outright LM P1 honors, there's a battle brewing for the best of the gasoline-powered prototypes. Only three points separate the four teams vying for the coveted spot in the championship. Charouz Racing System's Stefan Mucke and Jan Charouz in the Aston Martin-powered Lola B08/60 has a one-point advantage over the No. 17 Pescarolo Sport Judd of Harold Primat and Christophe Tinseau as well as Stuart Hall piloting the No. 14 Creation Autosportif AIM. Jean Christophe-Boullion and Emmanuel Collard in the sister No. 16 Pescarolo shouldn't be counted out either, as the French duo trail one point further behind.

But on Friday, it was none of these teams that were fastest of the gasoline-powered entries. Instead, it was the No. 21 Epsilon Euskadi Judd of Shinji Nakano and Adrian Valles that posted the fifth quickest lap time overall, just 0.035 seconds slower than the quickest Audi in third.

LM P2 was led by the No. 34 Van Merksteijn Motorsport Porsche RS Spyder of Jos Verstappen and Peter van Merksteijn, with a 1:36.114 lap time. The Dutch team has already clinched the drivers' and teams' championship following its third win of the season at the Nurburgring. However, trouble struck in the afternoon session when the purple and white machine suffered an accident. Heavy rear-end damage was sustained, but the car is expected to be repaired in time for tomorrow's activities.

Champions-elect Luc Alphand Aventures set the pace in LM GT1, with Guillaume Moreau and Patrice Goueslard turning a 1:45.324 lap time in the dry morning session. The team's No. 72 Corvette C6.R only needs to finish the race in order to claim the championship. Their nearest rivals, Team Modena, sit 10 points back in the standings. Tomas Enge and Antonio Garcia will have to win the race and Alphand crew to retire in order to take the title away from the French team. Incidentally, Enge and Garcia's Aston Martin wound up second quickest in practice.

The same could not be said in the battle for LM GT2 honors, as only three points separate the top-two runners. Virgo Motorsport's Rob Bell holds the slight edge, and was quickest on Friday. The Englishman is sharing the wheel of his No. 96 Ferrari F430 GT this weekend with American Le Mans Series regular Jamie Melo, as Gianmaria Bruni is on FIA GT duty in Brno. If Bell can hold onto the title, it will be his second consecutive LMS crown.

The only team that can knock Bell and Virgo Motorsport off its throne is Team Felbermayr-Proton and drivers Marc Lieb and Alex Davsion. The duo was second quickest on the day in their No. 77 Porsche 997 GT3 RSR, ahead of the No. 76 IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche of Richard Lietz and Raymond Narac.

Forty-six cars took time today, with one car finally making a long-awaited debut. James Watt Automotive's Aston Martin Vantage GT2 turned laps in today's sessions, marking the first appearance of the season for the Prodrive-built machine in Europe. Tim Sugden, Alan van der Merwe and Michael Outzen are listed to co-drive the V8-engined machine.

Final practice kicks off activities tomorrow (9:00 a.m. local time) followed by split LMP/GT qualifying in the afternoon (1:15 p.m.)

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Series European Le Mans
Drivers Jos Verstappen , Gianmaria Bruni , Tomas Enge , Antonio Garcia , Allan McNish , Nicolas Minassian , Marc Gene , Shinji Nakano , Emmanuel Collard , Stéphane Sarrazin , Pedro Lamy , Christophe Tinseau , Rob Bell , Harold Primat , Luc Alphand , Patrice Goueslard , Marc Lieb , Alan van der Merwe , Tim Sugden , Alexandre Prémat , Mike Rockenfeller , Peter van Merksteijn , Adrian Valles , Stuart Hall , Stefan Mücke , Raymond Narac , Jan Charouz , Richard Lietz , Dindo Capello
Teams Team Joest , IMSA Performance Matmut , Team Felbermayr