Peugeot scores third victory after dramatic 1000kms In front of a record crowd of 35,000 spectators and in temperatures of more than 26 degrees Centigrade, the Le Mans Series put on another fantastic show at the third race of the 2008 season in...
Peugeot scores third victory after dramatic 1000kms
In front of a record crowd of 35,000 spectators and in temperatures of more than 26 degrees Centigrade, the Le Mans Series put on another fantastic show at the third race of the 2008 season in Spa-Francorchamps with drama throughout the 1000km race.
Star drivers from Peugeot and ORECA stepped onto the podium as Jacques Villeneuve joined Nicolas Minassian and Marc Gene on the top step for Peugeot, while Olivier Panis joined Nicolas Lapierre in third place for the ORECA team.
Audi took second place overall with Mike Rockenfeller and Alexandre Premat, who through consistent finishing in the opening three races are tied on points at the head of the table with Minassian and Gene.
Jos Verstappen returned to the top step of the podium for the first time since Barcelona in April in the Porsche RS Spyder co-driven by Peter van Merksteijn. They headed an all-Porsche podium as the Horag Porsche of Didier Theys, Fredy Lienhard and Jan Lammers took second and Team Essex recovered from a series of problems to take third.
The Luc Alphand Aventures team won the GT1 category, but it was the Lamborghini of Peter Kox and Roman Rusinov which led until the luggage cover lifted at the front of the car and left the Russian unsighted.
Reigning GT2 champions Virgo Motorsport won the GT2 class by just two-tenths of a second ahead of the Porsche of Marc Lieb and Alex Davison after a thrilling end to a race.
Hat-trick for Peugeot
Peugeot scored its third win in as many races as Jacques Villeneuve, Nicolas Minassian and Marc Gene won at Spa, but the victory celebrations were tempered by an accident for the sister car which was heavily damaged though driver Alexander Wurz was unhurt. The incident also involved the number 1 Audi of Rinaldo Capello which had been defending its second place following an early race puncture.
With their second win of the year, Gene and Minassian are tied with Alexandre Premat and Mike Rockenfeller at the head of the drivers' table, the two cars filling the top steps of the podium. Yet it was the sister cars of both teams that set the early pace, Pedro Lamy leading for Peugeot ahead of Allan McNish's Audi.
Alexander Wurz, the 1996 Le Mans winner, took over the car from Lamy for the middle stint and was closing on Rinaldo Capello's Audi when the Austrian made contact with Ralf Kelleners' Spyker. Kelleners spun and hit the barriers, Wurz spun and hit Capello's Audi which delayed Capello in the pits with damage to the right rear of the car and badly damaged the Peugeot which was out of the race immediately.
"It was not what we needed just before Le Mans," said Peugeot Technical Director Bruno Famin, whose team will have to prepare a fresh chassis for the French race in five weeks' time. The Peugeot n7 battled with the Audi n2 in the last two hours of the race, and the Peugeot pulled out more than a minute which all but assured victory. Nicolas Minassian took over the car for the final race to the flag and was frustrated to see the safety car emerge with seven laps remaining. The gap was closed again, but the result was not in doubt.
Nicolas Lapierre had a magnificent drive to claim the third step of the podium in the Team ORECA Matmut Courage. The Frenchman started from the pit lane after suffering a suspension failure in qualifying, but worked his way through the pack with precision, moving into third place mid-way through the third hour. It was a brilliant drive, backed up by Olivier Panis and the pair were delighted to take the final podium position, three laps down on the winners.
McNish and Capello made their way back through the pack to finish fourth, four laps adrift. Capello took the position four laps from the chequered flag from the Pescarolo of Jean- Christophe Boullion and Emmanuel Collard.
The Charouz Racing System Lola Aston Martin again showed strongly, but had a long stop to fix a problem with the alternator. They finished 10th, one place behind the Rollcentre Pescarolo of Vanina Ickx, sharing with Mikael Forsten and Joao Barbosa. Ickx crashed when she found herself unable to change gears, and hit the wall on the outside of the circuit at the La Source hairpin.
Van Merksteijn returns to the top
Peter van Merksteijn and Jos Verstappen took their second win of the year in the van Merksteijn Motorsport Porsche RS Spyder after a race-long battle with the Speedy Racing Team Sebah Lola Judd. That fight was only decided in the final hour, when the Lola stopped with an alternator belt problem with Frenchman Xavier Pompidou behind the wheel in the car that he shared with Steve Zacchia and Andrea Belicchi.
It was another close finish, with Jan Lammers crossing the line just 10 seconds behind in the Horag Porsche shared with Didier Theys and Fredy Lienhard. The team gambled on not taking on new tyres at the final pit stop in a bid to retain the lead but it was not enough. The van Merksteijn Porsche took its second win of the year despite losing six minutes in the pits changing the nose after a headlight broke.
Third place went to Team Essex, winners in Monza two weeks ago but it was an altogether different race for the Danish team in Belgium. Casper Elgaard was involved in an accident before the green flag, which caused the retirement of the Embassy car of Joey Foster. The two cars collided as they warmed their tyres and brakes, but meant that the race started behind the safety car. Elgaard, who lost time in the pits as the team repaired the nose of his blue Porsche, admitted the mistake, apologised to the Embassy Racing team, and accepted his three minute penalty without question.
The Saulnier Racing Pescarolo Judd of Pierre Ragues and Matthieu Lahaye was fourth, ahead of the Trading Performance Zytek of Karim Ojjeh, Claude-Yves Gosselin and Julian Schroyen.
Second win for Alphand Aventures
A fantastic drive from the Frenchman Guillaume Moreau helped the Luc Alphand Aventures team take its second win of the season in the "LM" GT1 category.
It was a dramatic race in which the IPB Spartak Racing Lamborghini showed magnificent form and came close to scoring its first win of the year. Moreau, sharing with Alphand and Patrice Goueslard, battled throughout the opening two hours with the Team Modena Aston Martin of Antonio Garcia and Tomas Enge before the British car had an alternator belt failure which ensured a long stop in the pits.
The two drivers recovered to finish third, recording the fastest lap of the race with a 2m16.625s lap and finished three laps down on the winning Corvette.
The Lamborghini took second place having led for much of the second half of the race before the luggage cover at the front fo the car flew up and left Roman Rusinov unsighted for much of the lap.
"I had bad luck with a prototype which had trouble braking," said the Russian, who also had a punctured tyre. He completed a slow lap and dropped to second place as the Corvette powered past, but recorded another podium, a lap behind after the car's most competitive showing to date and the Russian team will take heart from the race.
The Strakka Racing Aston Martin took fourth place after a race that was punctuated by spins. Peter Hardman and Nick Leventis finished nine laps behind the winning Corvette on their debut in the series, and hope to improve on the result at the Nurburgring in August.
Victory by Ferrari...by 0.184s!
The margin of victory could hardly have been closer as Rob Bell held off a charging Marc Lieb to win the GT2 category for the Virgo Motorsport Ferrari team, and it was a fitting end to a tight race between the two cars.
The Ferrari held the advantage for much of the race, but Lieb and his co-driver Alex Davison kept pace and did not allow the British team to make any mistakes.
With less than ten laps remaining Bell, with codriver Gianmaria Bruni, finally looked assured at the head of the field but there was a final twist in the tail as the British driver was hit by the Saulnier Racing Pescarolo Judd. That damaged the rear suspension of the Ferrari and left Bell with a very difficult jon to hold off Lieb's Porsche.
"It was fantastic for everyone," said Bell at the end of the victory celebrations. "We fought with the number 77 car for most of the race, and it was fun and fair." Lieb, a double champion in the series, added:
"Second place was not so bad. It was a good performance and we lost about 30 seconds in the pit lane, but it was a good fight."
The Felbermayr Proton team celebrated a double podium as Horst Felbermayr Junior and Senior, sharing their Porsche with Christian Ried, finished third after a trouble-free race. Pierre Ehret and Pierre Kaffer suffered a broken driveshaft having run in second place in class. The second Farnbacher car, the Porsche of Allan Simonsen, Richard Westbrook and Lars Eric Nielsen was retired in the fifth hour with a seized front hub. Richard Lietz and Raymond Narac were running well until a throttle cable broke on their IMSA Performance Porsche.