Sarrazin secures pole for Peugeot at Spa

Team Peugeot Total continued its mark in the Le Mans Series, with Stephane Sarrazin claiming the pole position for Sunday's 1000km at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. The Frenchman aboard the team's No. 8 Peugeot 908 HDi-FAP clocked a 1:58.069 lap...

Team Peugeot Total continued its mark in the Le Mans Series, with Stephane Sarrazin claiming the pole position for Sunday's 1000km at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. The Frenchman aboard the team's No. 8 Peugeot 908 HDi-FAP clocked a 1:58.069 lap time late in the event-filled LMP session to put his diesel-powered car on the top spot.

The 20-minute session for the LM P1 and LM P2 machines provided some drama with two red flags. First it was the Kruse-Schiller Motorsport Lola Mazda and the Team Oreca Matmut Courage-Oreca Judd that both had offs. Then it was Olivier Pla in the Quifel ASM Team Lola AER who crashed heavily with six minutes remaining.

Before the red flags, the No. 1 Audi Sport Team Joest R10 TDI of Allan McNish flew to the top of the time charts with a 1:58.705 lap. Sarrazin nor teammate Marc Gene in the No. 7 entry were able to match the Scotsman's time. But once the green came back out, Sarrazin found a clear lap and put in his pole-winning time, nearly seven-tenths quicker than McNish's best.

"It's always difficult to stay concentrated when a session is interrupted by two red flag incidents as it was today," Sarrazin said. "I found my car easy to drive and nicely balanced through both the tight and faster turns. Even so, my best lap wasn't perfect because I wanted to get a decent time under my belt. My car deserved better!"

McNish had to settle for second, but his run still marked a first. It will be Audi's first front row start in the series, as Peuegot locked out the front two positions in the both opening rounds.

"I was able to get a very good lap in at the very beginning just before the first red flag," McNish said. "We knew that the potential to improve on that was minimal and so we decided to save ourselves and the tyres especially for the start of the race. We have seen consistently in previous races that the Audi R10 TDI is more competitive and can race better. Over six hours and 160-plus laps round this circuit that's the type of car that we will actually need."

Gene in the No. 7 Peugeot mustered the third-best time, a 1:58.787. The Spaniard thought he had more out of the car but hopes to turn the luck around for the race tomorrow.

"I'm very disappointed," Gene said. "My car oversteered, but we will do what we can to sort that out so that we can challenge for victory tomorrow."

Mike Rockenfeller piloting the sister No. 2 Audi wound up fourth but couldn't find a clear lap to make an assault on the front row. His time of 2:00.796 was over two seconds adrift from Sarrazin's pole speed.

"On my fast lap I had to overtake three cars and one of them spun directly in front of me," Rockenfeller said. "Between this morning and qualifying we made a lot of changes to the car and I first had to get used to them. I think we're well set for the race. At a six-hour race, you don't need to start from pole in order to finish at the very front."

All four diesel entries eclipsed Nicolas Minassian's pole-winning time from last year. This bodes well for Sunday's 1000km or six-hour race, as the Audis struggled to match the pace of the French Lions in the opening two rounds.

"We had figured that we'd be a little closer to the Peugeots here than at the first two races and are pleased to be starting from the front row," said Wolfgang Ullrich, head of Audi Motorsport. "The gaps between the first four cars are very small. I think that's a good base for an exciting race."

The Charouz Racing Systems Lola Aston Martin of Stefan Mucke and Jan Charouz qualified fifth, the best of the gasoline-fueled P1s. Pescarolo Sport's two Judd-powered machines were sixth and seventh.

Olivier Panis and Nicolas Lapierre in the lone Team Oreca Matmut entry this weekend were quick in practice but spun in qualifying, knocking the Courage-Oreca Judd to a 32nd overall starting position. The team's sister car is not here this weekend following a massive crash two weeks ago at Monza. Stephane Ortelli is recovering from compound fracture of his ankle and is hoping to be fit by Le Mans. Team Oreca, meanwhile, has determined that a rear wing failure caused the frightening high-speed accident.

In P2, the Van Merksteijn Motorsport Porsche RS Spyder of Jos Verstappen claimed the pole, continuing his unbeaten record in qualifying. The Dutchman's 2:05.841 lap time ended up eighth quickest overall, outpacing five more powerful P1 cars.

"Obviously, I already had a lap on my tires as I had to come in when the red flag was out," Verstappen said. "On top of that, we had massive oversteer and we don't know the reason yet. In free practice this morning, the car was perfect and we left it was it was for qualifying, but all of a sudden, the balance was gone. This means that we will have to do some work to do tonight in order to prepare for the race, but I am confident that we will get it done."

Verstappen with co-driver and team owner Peter van Merksteijn will be looking for their second win of the season after claiming victory in Barcelona and finishing third in Monza.

"So far, we have been fastest in all sessions here at Spa, which makes us optimistic for the race," van Merksteijn said. "But as we have seen in qualifying, a lot of things can happen at a challenging track like this."

The Speedy Racing Team Sebah Lola Judd Coupe gave the Dutch team a run for their money, as Xavier Pompidou got within 0.039 seconds of the RS Spyder in the session. Pompidou and co-drivers Andrea Belicchi and Steve Zacchia qualified second with the Barazi Epsilon Zytek rounding out the top-three in class.

Antonio Garcia stormed to the LM GT1 pole, setting a 2:16.074 lap time in his Team Modena Aston Martin DBR9. The Spaniard and co-driver Tomas Enge are hot off the win at Monza and will be looking for more success this time out. The No. 72 Luc Alphand Aventures Corvette C6.R was second quickest, followed by the IPB Spartak Racing Lamborghini in third.

Virgo Motorsport has proved to be the quickest team in LM GT2 so far in the season, and things didn't change this weekend. Gianmaria Bruni turned a 2:21.205 lap time in his yellow Ferrari F430 GT, good enough for the class pole. He and co-driver Rob Bell will start alongside the No. 77 Team Felbermayr-Proton Porsche of Marc Lieb and Alex Davison. Third quickest in class was the No. 90 Farnbacher Racing Ferrari.

Forty-two cars took time in qualifying, with the Kruse Schiller Motorsport Lola Mazda the only one not setting a lap. The German team though is expected to take part in the 1000-km (143 laps) or six-hour race, which is slated for a 12:50 p.m. local start time. Once again, will provide frequent updates throughout the race.

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About this article
Series European Le Mans
Drivers Jos Verstappen , Olivier Panis , Gianmaria Bruni , Tomas Enge , Antonio Garcia , Nicolas Minassian , Marc Gene , Stéphane Ortelli , Rob Bell , Luc Alphand , Xavier Pompidou , Marc Lieb , Alex Davison , Olivier Pla , Nicolas Lapierre , Mike Rockenfeller , Peter van Merksteijn , Steve Zacchia , Stefan Mücke , Jan Charouz , Andrea Belicchi
Teams Team Joest