Peugeots set pace in practice at Nurburgring

After a three-month break, the Le Mans Series roared back to life Friday, with a familiar face at the top of the time sheets. Picking up where they left off in the opening three races, Peugeot reigned supreme in practice for Sunday's Nurburgring...

After a three-month break, the Le Mans Series roared back to life Friday, with a familiar face at the top of the time sheets. Picking up where they left off in the opening three races, Peugeot reigned supreme in practice for Sunday's Nurburgring 1000km. The No. 8 Team Peugeot Total 908 HDi-FAP of Stephane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy turned a 1:30.726 lap time around the 5.137-km Grand Prix circuit, edging out its sister car and the preying Audis behind.

The French Lions were busy making news on and off the track, as Peugeot confirmed today that it will be taking part in the Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta this October. Two 908 HDi-FAPs will make the trip across the pond, as the team ramps up efforts to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2009.

"Like any top sportsman who senses he or she has the ability, we are obviously disappointed to have so narrowly missed out on victory in June," said Peugeot Sport Director Michel Barge. "This year's [Le Mans] winner emerged after a fierce battle between the two main players who both deserve respect for their efforts and encouragement for the future. We now have every intention of keeping up our effort in order to be in a position to top the podium in 2009."

The squad's four core drivers (Sarrazin, Lamy, Marc Gene and Nicolas Minassian) will be joined by Christian Klien and Alexander Wurz in the 1000-mile or 10-hour American Le Mans Series race. But first, the team is focused on claiming the Le Mans Series title, with this weekend's race playing a key role on the outcome.

There's a two-way tie for the lead in the LM P1 drivers' championship, as Audi Sport Team Joest's Mike Rockenfeller and Alexandre Premat are dead even with Peugeot's Minassian and Gene, despite not making it to victory lane this season. Rockenfeller and Premat have played the role of consistency this season, scoring three second-place finishes. Audi's young guns were fourth quickest overall on Friday, behind the team's No. 1 machine of Allan McNish and Dindo Capello.

Quickest of the gasoline-powered P1s was the No. 6 Team Oreca Matmut Courage-Oreca LC70 Judd of Olivier Panis and Nicolas Lapierre, in fifth overall. The lap of 1:43.507 was one of the very few times to hold up from the morning session. The team's sister car sees the return of Stephane Ortelli, who is fully recovered following his huge accident at Monza. Ortelli rejoins Soheil Ayari and welcomes back Loic Duval as a third driver this weekend.

Charouz Racing System's No. 10 Lola B08/60 Aston Martin of Jan Charouz and Stefan Mucke ended up seventh on the clocks Friday, but the car was stranded on track for much of the second session. Since Le Mans two months ago, the team has built up a brand-new chassis, debuting it here this weekend.

In addition to Ortelli's return, Creation AIM's Jamie Campbell-Walter is back in the saddle after recovering from his back injuries sustained at Monza. Campbell-Walter rejoins Stuart Hall in the No. 14 AIM-powered entry. The Ian Bickerton-led crew has a second car here this weekend, with Liz Halliday and Stephen Simpson at the wheel. Halliday, who signed to drive for the team at Petit Le Mans and Laguna Seca, was a late call-up after regular driver Felippe Ortiz was unable to make it.

In LM P2, the No. 31 Team Essex Porsche RS Spyder of John Nielsen and Casper Elgaard was quickest, with a 1:44.645 lap time being turned in Danish-entered machine. Le Mans class winners and LMS championship leaders Van Merksteijn Motorsport is without its owner/driver this weekend, as Peter van Merksteijn is competing in the Rallye Deutschland. Thus, Jeroen Bleekamolen has been drafted in to share the wheel of the No. 34 Porsche with Jos Verstappen. The duo ended the day second quickest, ahead of the No. 40 Quifel ASM Team Lola B05/40 AER in third.

Tomas Enge and Antonio Garcia piloting the No. 59 Team Modena Aston Martin DBR9 led the way in GT1, which features only four cars this weekend. The car's time of 1:55.227 was a fraction quicker than the No. 55 IPB Spartak Lamborghini Murcielago in second. Olivier Beretta returns to Luc Alphand Aventures this weekend, and was third fastest in the team's No. 73 Corvette C6.R.

Farnbacher Racing's No. 90 Ferrari F430 GT of Pierre Kaffer, Pierre Ehret and Anthony Beltoise set the pace in GT2, ahead of the No. 77 Team Felbermayr-Proton Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Marc Lieb and Alex Davison. Championship leader Rob Bell suffered a fire in his No. 96 Virgo Motorsport Ferrari, bringing his second session to a blazing halt. Bell, who clocked the quickest time from the morning session, was unhurt, and the team hopes to have the Prancing Horse back on track tomorrow.

Forty-six cars took time Friday, as three entries have been withdrawn from the race. Lucchini once again wasn't able to get its cars homologated, while the JWA Aston Martin Vantage GT2 did not make it to the track in time.

A one-hour final practice is on tap for Saturday morning, followed by qualifying in the afternoon.

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Series European Le Mans
Drivers Jos Verstappen , Olivier Panis , Tomas Enge , Antonio Garcia , Marc Gene , Alexander Wurz , Stéphane Sarrazin , Pedro Lamy , Rob Bell , Jamie Campbell-Walter , Pierre Ehret , Luc Alphand , John Nielsen , Marc Lieb , Soheil Ayari , Alex Davison , Olivier Beretta , Christian Klien , Nicolas Lapierre , Alexandre Prémat , Mike Rockenfeller , Peter van Merksteijn , Pierre Kaffer , Stuart Hall , Stephen Simpson , Stefan Mücke , Loic Duval , Anthony Beltoise , Jan Charouz , Dindo Capello , Michel Barge
Teams Team Joest