Ingram's Flat Spot On Peugeot 'Out-Paced' At Le Mans by Jonathan Ingram How fast is too fast? How slow is too slow? Those are the questions that the Peugeot Sport and the Audi Sport teams pondered prior to this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans...
Ingram's Flat Spot On
Peugeot 'Out-Paced' At Le Mans
by Jonathan Ingram
How fast is too fast? How slow is too slow?
Those are the questions that the Peugeot Sport and the Audi Sport teams pondered prior to this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans with the results now obvious. The pace of Audi was slower, but all three of its R15 TDI "plus" entries not only finished but swept the podium.
In retrospect, you have to wonder why Peugeot, which lost three of its 908 HDi FAP entries to blown engines and one to a broken chassis, didn't orchestrate a split strategy. If the French team had at least one of its cars matching the same pace of the Audi's, would a 908 been around at the finish to do battle with the red and silver prototypes directed by Wolfgang Ullrich?
From the first practice and then the three qualifying sessions, Peugeot Sport's boss Olivier Quesnel clearly chose to push the pace. In the best of times, the choice of a fast pace results in the opposition straining to keep up and either suffering from mistakes in the cockpit or broken equipment.
The danger of pushing the pace was obvious this past weekend, when Peugeot ran itself into the ground despite having one more entry than Audi.
One suspects there was a bit of crying wolf at Audi prior to the race by design. At the pre-race media conference on Friday in its palatial, two-story hospitality building, the Audi comments ran along the lines of ''No matter what the outcome, our customers will be winners." It's as if the Germans were egging on the French with a premature white flag.
By 7 a.m. on Sunday morning, it was Peugeot driver Franck Montagny phoning home without getting an answer, using the mobile unit from his 908 to ask the crew back in the pits if there was anything he could do to salvage his stranded car, the one that had been leading all night? He then put the phone away, got his helmet and walked away. The engine was kaput.
By time the last-gasp charge of Anthony Davidson and Alexander Wurz failed after the No. 1 Peugeot blew its engine, the jig was already up and the tables turned. Audi's leading car had enough lead to maintain a relatively slow pace while it was the Peugeot that had to strain to the breaking point.
Once again, why not run two cars at the Audi pace and two cars at Peugeot's faster tempo? Perhaps losing one car early to a broken monocoque as a result of a broken suspension and having another fall several laps down due to a broken suspension tied the hands of Peugeot Sport's boss. But one imagines a quest to run all four cars at the maximum based on the idea that one would make it to the finish in front.
The other key question -- did Audi show its hand? Could the "plus" R15's have run the same pace as the Peugeots but instead were held in check by a focus on running to the finish?
I suspect not. When the No. 7 entry of veterans Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Dindo Capello fell behind after eight-time winner Kristensen's mishap with one of the BMW GT entries in the Porsche Curves, the talented trio was not able to make up time on its fellow Audi entries, much less the fleeing Peugeots. The Audis evidently were all running at their maximum from start to finish.
Indeed, this Le Mans had the feel of one where both of the protagonists did their absolute best and fastest, let the chips fall where they may. In the end, it was a race that certainly held one's attention -- if only because of the tension between the different pacing of each veteran team and the ongoing mystery of which one's pace would prove best over 24 hours.
One of the ironies of the Audi victory was the presence of Frenchman Romain Dumas on the top step of the podium with German teammates Timo Bernhard and Mike Rockenfeller. It's not unusual to have an international mix behind the wheel at any of the major factory endurance racing teams. Last year's winning Peugeot was driven by an Aussie (David Brabham), a German (Alexander Wurz) and a Spaniard (Marc Gene).
After scoring one victory in four appearances at the Circuit de la Sarthe, the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP is now headed for retirement with the arrival of next year's rules package, meaning that a French driver never drove this version of the Peugeot to victory in the great French race.
Jonathan Ingram can be reached at email@example.com.