The NÂ°8 Peugeot HDi FAP to start its Le Mans debut on pole StÃ©phane Sarrazin's stunning last-minute lap at the end of Wednesday evening's first practice session was finally sufficient to put the NÂ°8 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP ...
The N°8 Peugeot HDi FAP to start its Le Mans debut on pole
Stéphane Sarrazin's stunning last-minute lap at the end of Wednesday evening's first practice session was finally sufficient to put the N°8 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP (Lamy/Sarrazin/Bourdais) on pole position for the 2007 Le Mans 24 Hours which starts at 3pm Saturday. Profiting from one of the few slots that permitted the top teams to scrap for the fastest qualifying lap, the Frenchman put the new car at the top of the timesheets with a 3m 26.344s, just seconds before the chequered flag came down. Wet conditions throughout Thursday's session ensured that his efforts were not in vain, while the N°7 Peugeot of Gene/Minassian/Villeneuve (3rd) will line up just behind its sister car on the second row of Saturday afternoon's grid.
Barely six months after the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP car's maiden track run last January, Team Peugeot Total took another important step forward in its Le Mans 24 Hours bid by securing pole position at first attempt when wet conditions this evening prevented any continuation of last night's thrilling fight. Indeed, the closing minutes of Wednesday's session saw the lead change hands three times in the final quarter of an hour before Sarrazin put the N°8 car in front for good at the stroke of midnight thanks to a lap that the Frenchman describes as one of the best he has ever produced at Le Mans.
With pole apparently safely in its grasp, and with the N°7 car assured of a second row start thanks to an equally spirited drive from Nicolas Minassian, the team profited from today's conditions to get in some running in the wet. And given that the team had only previously completed less than half a day's testing in rain at Paul Ricard in March, this could well prove valuable if the current spell of changeable weather continues during the weekend.
Jacques Villeneuve, Sébastien Bourdais, Marc Gene and Pedro Lamy covered 45 laps between them as they fine-tuned the set-ups of their respective cars in the wet and also sifted through the different wet weather tyre options the team's partner Michelin has brought to the French circuit. The team rounded off the week's qualifying sessions with the evening's third best time (Bourdais, 4m 1.928s, less than 7/10ths of a second off tonight's 'pole') and its studious run was only upset when Marc Gene (Car N°7) was forced to park up after going straight on at Arnage with a little less than 1½ hours remaining.
Michel BARGE (Director, Peugeot Sport): "It is obviously very satisfying to have qualified on pole. Since the green light was given to the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP programme barely 18 months ago, we have taken the successive challenges we have faced one at a time: the car's first track test in January, our first LMS outings and wins at Monza and Valencia, the preliminary practice day here at Le Mans earlier in the month, which saw Sébastien Bourdais post the fastest time, and now this week's two qualifying sessions. These different hurdles have helped strengthen the bond between everyone in the team but we are all acutely aware that the build-up is one thing and the race another. We have never hidden the fact that our objective is 2008 and that anything we can learn in all domains between now and then will be very welcome experience. We have all been extremely focused so far, and that will continue to be the case over the coming days."
Bruno FAMIN (Technical Director, Peugeot Sport): "Before Wednesday's session, we had nothing to lose, but that was no longer the case after Stéphane succeeded putting the N°8 car on pole position last night! In the end, this evening's conditions meant we weren't called upon to defend our position at the front of the grid and we were able to get in some useful work in the wet. Before this week, we had started to build up a good understanding of the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP. Today, the results of the two official practice sessions have shown that we have a competitive package over one lap compared with this race's recent benchmark. But we are also very aware how crucial reliability promises to be over the coming weekend."
Stéphane SARRAZIN (N°8 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP): "My fastest lap on Wednesday evening was one of my best ever at Le Mans. The closer to end of the session we got, the more the track dried out and the more the tension mounted. I gave it everything I had and even took a few risks passing the slower cars because there was a lot of traffic about and the track was still damp in places..."
Jacques VILLENEUVE (N°7 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP): "The combination of driving at night and tonight's atrocious weather was very, very difficult. And it was even more complicated with all the traffic about and with some of the slower cars occasionally braking in some strange places. You've really got to be on your toes all the time. Part of the circuit uses roads that are open to normal traffic most of the year and there were lots of huge puddles. It was very hairy and aquaplaning was a big problem."
Pedro LAMY (N°8 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP): "The conditions weren't at all easy this evening and I found myself aquaplaning several times. We weren't chasing a quick lap and we essentially profited from the session to work on the wet weather set-up. Tonight's conditions were really quite reminiscent of the 2001 race which was truly memorable. I finished 4th but the weather was appalling."
Marc GENE (N°7 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP): "I locked up the front end under braking for Arnage and went straight on. The car suffered a little front end damage, but nothing serious. I am obviously very, very disappointed that we weren't able to complete the evening's programme but I have to say that the car is really nicely balanced as its stands."
Sébastien BOURDAIS (N°8 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP): "I posted my fastest time after going over a gravel trap when I locked up after being unsighted by another car. It damaged the splitter, but nothing catastrophic. Stéphane did a great job qualifying the car and it's great to see the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP on pole position for its first attempt at the Le Mans 24 Hours. My dearest wish now is to make it all the way to the finish."
Nicolas MINASSIAN (N°7 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP): "My team-mates had a difficult job this evening, especially when the conditions were at their worst. All in all they did a great job and that could well prove useful for the race if it stays wet this weekend."