The 2009 Le Mans Series wasn't a manufacturer versus manufacturer gladiatorial epic like the previous year's head-to-head between Audi and Peugeot. Instead, the championship became a shoot-out between a larger group of smaller but quite evenly-matched teams.
Aston Martin Racing's new LMP1 project was the highest-profile squad in the field, and it eventually prevailed in the title battle after a close fight with the sometimes quicker Pescarolo. ORECA was also a winner, while there were surprisingly strong challenges from the Sebah and Strakka teams too.
With grids remaining healthy - the dying GT1 class apart - in a very challenging year for sportscar racing, the LMS coped well with the departure of the two giants that had made 2008 such a halcyon year.
Admittedly, the championship faded from the headlines but it still delivered close competition and 35 to 50 car fields every time, and that was an impressive achievement in one of motorsport's toughest seasons.
Round 1 Barcelona, April 3-5
Rising sportscar star Danny Watts is the hero of qualifying, putting the Strakka Zytek on pole, but his team-mates Peter Hardman and Nick Leventis cannot maintain that pace on race day, so the lead battle came down to the #007 Aston of Tomas Enge, Stefan Mucke and Jan Charouz versus Pescarolo's Jean-Christophe Boullion and Christophe Tinseau.
The latter got into the lead at a messy start - in which front row qualifier Darren Turner was elbowed back in the second Aston - and pulled out a comfortable advantage, before Tinseau stalled at the final stop and allowed Mucke to get within sight.
The German then pounced in traffic soon after a safety car period and went on to win. Bruno Senna and Stephane Ortelli complete the podium for ORECA.
Early problems for ASM and RML gave Racing Box a clear run in LMP2, whereas the GT1 pace-setting IPB Spartak Lamborghini had to overcome a string of glitches to pick up class victory when Luc Alphand spun his Corvette. The Felbermayr-Proton Porsche beat the JMW Ferrari in a tough GT2 battle.
Round 2 Spa, May 8-10
The Jean-Christophe Boulion/Christophe Tinseau Pescarolo Sport Judd at Spa-Francorchamps
Peugeot popped in to get some pre-Le Mans mileage and duly dominated with its #7 car, although the #8 was only 12th after a costly collision in traffic.
Second place gave Pescarolo the points lead as the lead Aston crew was docked two points for an engine change during a troubled build-up that left them starting at the back. They salvaged third, benefiting from the Nicolas Lapierre/Olivier Panis ORECA - which had been running ahead of Pescarolo - having a minor collision and then needing a late splash and dash.
Porsche also returned with the Essex team and hung on for a narrow LMP2 win ahead of the Sebah Lola. Racing Box and ASM were both taken out in early incidents.
The Alphand Corvette got ahead of the Reiter Lamborghini (in its last appearance) in the pits to win GT1. Felbermayr-Proton won another tight GT2 fight, ahead of the Modena Ferrari, after JMW was delayed by a loose wheel.
Round 3 Algarve, July 30 - August 2
A huge dice between Pescarolo, ORECA and Aston eventually went the former's way. A loose fuel union took the pole-winning ORECA car out of contention early, and then a trip through the gravel by Mucke dropped Aston back.
A nose change for the Pescarolo brought them close together again, before a gearbox glitch forced Aston to settle for second.
Home team ASM took the LMP2 lead with a dominant victory, while Alphand only had to beat the Larbre Saleen to easily win the GT1 class.
An opening stint tangle dropped JMW's Ferrari down the GT2 order, but it fought back to take the win and the points lead, beating Modena. The Imsa Performance Porsche lost a big lead when rear bodywork repairs were required, while the Felbermayr-Proton car suffered damage at the start.
Round 4 Nurburgring, August 21-23
The title fight was turned inside out by a weekend of Aston dominance and a gearbox failure for Pescarolo. An inadvertent triple stint on one set of tyres by the #007 Aston gave Turner and Harold Primat a chance to lead in the sister car, but the latter crew required a splash and dash at the end whereas their team-mates ran to the flag, giving Enge, Mucke and Charouz a seven-point cushion over Pescarolo heading for the finale.
Third place for the new additional Aston completed a perfect day for the team.
Dominant wins were the theme of the day. ASM crushed its LMP2 rivals again, Larbre won GT1 as engine problems stymied its only rival Alphand (although the latter did enough laps to win the title) and the Felbermayr-Proton Porsche commanded GT2 as a driveshaft failure knocked out the JMW Ferrari. The Modena Ferrari was a victory contender until it collided with a prototype.
Round 5 Silverstone, September 11-13
Silverstone winners Olivier Panis and Nicolas Lapierre in the Oreca-AIM
Boullion appeared to hand Aston the title when he crashed at the start of qualifying - but he made up for that error with a blistering charge from last to the lead in the first stint.
A transmission problem then intervened, dropping Boullion and Tinseau to 13th and meaning that Enge, Mucke and Charouz's conservative third gave them the title.
It was ORECA that emerged with victory in the spectacularly closely-fought race, narrowly beating the Sebah Lola after both had to pit for bodywork repairs in the closing stages. The Turner/Primat Aston was in the mix too until delayed by a puncture.
Sebah's LMP2 car won its class (then got hit by the Signature Courage as it slowed to celebrate), while ASM retired early but still clinched the title. Gigawave Aston's pairing of Peter Kox and Ryan Sharp was too strong for the Larbre and Alphand crews in GT1.
Gianmaria Bruni and Rob Bell did their utmost to give JMW the GT2 crown, but their win was in vain as the Felbermayr-Proton Porsche recovered from a misfire to collect seventh and win the title by one point.
Five key moments
1. The late turnaround at Catalunya allowed Aston to snatch victory - and the early advantage - from Pescarolo in the closing stages.
2. Aston's weekend of gremlins and penalties at Spa let Pescarolo get straight back in the hunt.
3. Pescarolo's points cushion vanished with a gearbox failure at the Nurburgring on a day when the Astons were unstoppable.
4. Boullion almost handed the title to Aston when he crashed his Pescarolo before even setting a time in Silverstone qualifying...
5. ...But then he made up for that with the drive of the year in the finale, storming through to lead, only for transmission issues to intervene and let Aston safely wrap up the title.
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