Team Peugeot Total claimed another dominant 1-2 result in Sunday's Nurburgring 1000km, the penultimate round of the Le Mans Series season. Stephane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy peddled their No. 8 Peugeot 908 HDi-FAP to take a 16-second victory over...
Team Peugeot Total claimed another dominant 1-2 result in Sunday's Nurburgring 1000km, the penultimate round of the Le Mans Series season. Stephane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy peddled their No. 8 Peugeot 908 HDi-FAP to take a 16-second victory over the sister car of Nicolas Minassian and Marc Gene, as the Audis were once again unable to match the pace of the French Lions.
The No. 7 car of Minassian started from the pole position and led the early laps before swapping positions with the sister machine of Sarrazin. The two diesel-powered coupes exchanged the lead a number of times throughout the six-hour race and enjoyed a flawless run out front. It was Sarrazin and Lamy's second win of the season, their first coming at Monza in April.
"I am proud of our performance for Peugeot today," Lamy said. "It was very important to get both cars to the finish with a view to scoring championship points. And after June's Le Mans 24 Hours, it was also important for Stephane and me to get back onto the podium. There's nothing like winning! I am really delighted with this result because there were no team orders, which goes to show what a sporting team Peugeot is."
Sarrazin and Lamy completed 195 trouble-free laps around the Nurburgring Grand Prix circuit. However, some will question Peugeot's tactics for not giving title contenders Minassian and Gene an opportunity to gain more points in the championship. The duo headed into the race tied with Audi Sport Team Joest's Mike Rockenfeller and Alexandre Premat, but was not able to fully capitalize on the points scoring opportunity.
"We preferred to let our crews fight it out between themselves here because it was too early to start thinking in terms of strategy for the drivers' title," said Peugeot Sport Director Michel Barge. "We took our decision out of respect for our drivers, who all put in great performances again despite the traffic, as well as for sporting reasons. We didn't want to influence the outcome."
While Minassian and Gene now lead the drivers' standings, it's only by two markers over the Audi young guns. Rockenfeller and Premat finished on the podium in third, but only because of a late-race call by the team to pit its sister car of Allan McNish with three laps remaining. If Peugeot played the strategy the way Audi possibly did, they would be sitting more comfortably in the drivers' championship heading into next month's season finale at Silverstone.
The race not only marked the first Peugeot 1-2 finish of the year, but also the first time all four factory diesels made it home in one piece. Despite this, it was yet another disappointment for Audi. Unable to match the pace set by the Peugeots, the two R10 TDIs settled into a steady rhythm and brought both of its machines home in third and fourth. This tactic still keeps their championship hopes alive, with the silver rings now trailing the French lion in the manufacturers' standings by six points.
"In terms of speed we wanted to be closer to our team-mates, and we managed that," said Rockenfeller, who finished third. "We drove similar lap times, so we're very satisfied in that respect. At the previous races we were still lacking something. We know it's difficult against Peugeot. But we've still been making maximum use of the potential for Audi so far. We want to do that at Silverstone as well and decide the championship in our favor."
McNish's late-race pit stop for an alleged slowly deflating tire cost he and co-driver Dindo Capello their first podium of the season. However, it awarded one additional point in the drivers' championship to Rockenfeller and Premat. While the official cause of their late pit stop was for a damaged right rear wheel, there's no denying championship tactics may have also influenced the decision to pit the car.
"We already had problems with our car in qualifying," McNish said. "Unfortunately, they continued in the race. The car was inconsistent. Dindo and I both had the same feeling. Still, we were able to move forwards up to third place at times."
Charouz Racing System's Lola B08/60 Aston Martin of Jan Charouz and Stefan Mucke finished fifth overall, the first of the gasoline-powered P1s. After starting from third, the Czech coupe ran solidly in the top-five for most of the race, only to be hit with a few setbacks. The No. 5 Team Oreca Matmut Courage-Oreca LC70 Judd of Stephane Ortelli, Soheil Ayari and Loic Duval came home in sixth.
While the championship is far from being decided in LM P1, Van Merksteijn Motorsport clinched the LM P2 title today with a dominant class win. Jos Verstappen and Jeroen Bleekemolen in their Porsche RS Spyder cruised to a four-lap victory over the Saulnier Racing Pescarolo Judd of Pierre Ragues and Matthieu Lahaye. It was the Dutch team's third class win of the season, putting Verstappen unreachable in the drivers' championship.
"This race was really good," Verstappen said. "The balance was good, but not on the first stint. We had some problems. The car was sliding a lot in the last seven or eight laps before we had to stop. But then we changed compounds and the car was obviously very good again and we could do consistent lap times. We had no issues."
Verstappen shared the wheel with countryman Bleekemolen for the second time this year, after scoring their Le Mans class victory together along with team owner Peter van Merksteijn. Van Merksteijn stepped out of the cockpit this weekend, and looks unlikely to return this season because of his World Rally Championship commitments. While Verstappen raised the crown as the sole P2 drivers' champion, Sunday's win was made easier after the early trouble from the Team Essex Porsche RS Spyder.
"The race was difficult because of the overtaking we had to do, especially in the beginning where we were racing against Essex," Verstappen added. "We had to take a little bit more risks to pass people. But when they went out, we had a two-lap gap, so we took it a lot easier. The car is so good and easy to drive. It's unbelievable."
Casper Elgaard in the Danish-entered RS Spyder ran in second in the opening hours but made an error during his second stint, sending him into the gravel trap. He lost two laps there, and a subsequent tire puncture cost he and co-driver John Nielsen even more time in the Team Essex Porsche.
"I had a very good beginning and was pushing Jos very hard," Elgaard explained. "Unfortunately at the end of the second stint, I got caught up in traffic. I misread a situation and was sure someone would give me the room I needed, but he didn't. So I had to brake hard and lost the rear under braking and hit the gravel trap. By that, we lost two laps and that was pretty much the victory there."
The Team Essex machine rebounded to finish third, behind the No. 35 Saulnier Racing Pescarolo Judd of Pierre Ragues and Matthieu Lahaye. The French duo ran a consistent race, but almost lost the runner-up position because of a late-race splash-and-go. However, Ragues rejoined 20 seconds ahead of Elgaard, and held on to give the team its second consecutive podium finish this year.
"It was a little surprise for us too, but after Le Mans to have a second podium is really great for us," Lahaye said. "It was a very hard race because we started so far back, but Pierre did a good job. I just made a little mistake in my second stint but it was not a big problem. We had to do a splash and dash at the end of the race, and it was very close between the Team Essex car. It was a very exciting race."
In LM GT1, the race came down to a last man-standing affair. However, the quickest car won. Tomas Enge and Antonio Garcia didn't turn a wheel wrong in their Team Modena Aston Martin DBR9, and that proved to be the key to victory. After the mid-race retirement of the IPB Spartak Lamborghini Murclieago, there were no other competitors left in sight. Thus, the duo cruised to an uncontested win, their second of the season.
"Everything was okay today," Enge said. "We were a bit worried if the tires would last the first stint which I did. At the end, our selection proved to be right. Our competitors chose the harder compound while we used the softer one. They worked perfectly not only at the beginning but also during the whole race. I managed to pull a solid gap after the start. When I handed the car to Antonio for the first time we had almost half a minute advantage."
Garcia took the British-entered machine to the finish line, 32 laps ahead of the second-placed No. 72 Luc Alphand Aventures Corvette C6.R of Guillaume Moreau, Patrice Goueslard and Luc Alphand. The trio overcame an early race fuel leak that put the white Chevy in the garage for more than an hour. It's sister car retired because of suspension damage caused in an earlier accident, giving the team some extra parts to make repairs to the championship-leading No. 72 entry.
With under two hours remaining, Alphand returned to the track with the patched-up machine, bringing it home just inside the 70 percent race distance requirement to be classified. With the second place finish in class, Moreau and Goueslard scored eight championship points, putting them 10 markers ahead of new second placers Enge and Garcia. The only way the Alphand crew could now lose the title is to not score any points in the season finale and the Team Modena pair win that race.
The feel-good story of the weekend came from the LM GT2 category, as Virgo Motorsport beat the odds to take the class victory. Rob Bell and Gimmi Bruni piloting the Dunlop-shod Ferrari F430 GT cruised to a two-lap victory over the No. 77 Team Felbermayr-Proton Porsche pairing of Alex Davison and Marc Lieb. However, it was no smooth sailing for the small British team, as they were all in dire need of much needed rest after the race.
On Friday, Virgo's Ferrari suffered a massive fuel fire, forcing the team in a race around the clock to rebuild the Prancing Horse. The crew only got the car ready by the morning warm-up and it had to start from the pit lane. But this didn't cause any problems for Bruni to rocket to the front, as the Italian led the race by lap 18. He and Bell never looked back from there, taking the team's third win of the season.
"It was a good race for us," Bell said. "We came through and Gimmi and I did well. But the fact of the matter was on Friday night we were looking at a car that possibly wasn't going to be able to be repaired. The guys have had six or seven hours of sleep over the last three days, and they've put the car back together. Really for us, it was a huge team effort. We owe this win to them."
With the win, Bell and Bruni extend their lead in the drivers' championship to three points over Felbermayr-Proton's Davison and Lieb, who finished second here today. IMSA Performance Matmut's Raymond Narac and Richard Lietz completed the GT2 podium.
Silverstone is the setting for the season-finale next month (September 12-14). With the championships still wide open in P1 and GT2, expect the unexpected in what's so far been a memorable year in the Le Man Series.