Peugeot clings on to Sebring lead
|By Matt Beer||Saturday, March 21st 2009, 20:30 GMT|
Peugeot's Franck Montagny is defending a narrow lead over Audi's Allan McNish at half-distance in an epic Sebring 12 Hours.
The #1 Audi is still in touch with the leaders in third place, but Peugeot's chances now depend entirely on the #8 car after the sister machine lost nine laps while an air conditioning problem was rectified.
Peugeot had been running first and second as the race reached the 100-lap mark, with Sebastien Bourdais leading in the #8 and pulling away from team-mate Christian Klien as the Austrian fended off Audi's Tom Kristensen.
But Klien then lost ground with a spin at Turn 1, and shortly afterwards he brought the car into the pits for a very long stop while the air conditioning unit was replaced. Under this year's regulations, closed-top cars have to ensure their cockpit temperature does not exceed 32 degrees.
"It's a problem on the air con," Klien explained. "The fan is not working anymore. We tried to fix it in the pits. In the closed car air con has to work.
"I was quite suffering in the last ten laps. The car was running okay, the second stint was quite difficult, I was losing rear grip and traction and it was hard to stay ahead of the second Audi."
Bourdais was able to pull as much as 30 seconds clear of the rest of the field - enjoying enough of a margin to spin at the final corner and still continue 16s in front.
"It's difficult with the wind," said Bourdais. "The track changes quickly, blowing sand on the track. It's not usual Sebring, but the windy Sebring.
"The back just hopped and I had no preview of that. The back just came around and luckily there were no consequences."
A charge from Kristensen brought Audi back into contention, and at the next round of pitstops, his team-mate McNish was able to pounce on Bourdais' team-mate Montagny into Turn 2 and snatch the lead as the Frenchman struggled with cold tyres.
An incredible dice ensued over the next few laps, with Montagny driving around the outside of McNish at the ultra-fast Turn 1 to retake the lead, only to get bottled up behind a GT car and have to concede first place again at the hairpin.
The duo then ran nose to tail, less than a second apart, until the latest pit sequence, where Peugeot's decision to double stint its tyres allowed Montagny to rejoin with a 20s lead - although McNish has already begun to eat into that gap.
The #1 Audi is currently 50s adrift in third, while the De Ferran Acura has been setting competitive times in fourth place - particularly in Scott Dixon's hands - although it is currently three laps down after a long pitstop.
Fernandez Racing is on course for LMP2 honours with both Dyson Lola-Mazdas now behind the pitwall having problems attended to.
Jan Magnussen and Oliver Gavin are running in Corvette formation in GT1, while the Risi and Advanced Engineering Ferraris remain one-two in GT2.
The PTG Panoz is up to third in class, the remaining Rahal Letterman BMW having recently been taken behind the wall.