After two years of frustration and unfulfilled promise, Peugeot finally grasped victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours at the third attempt with its 908 diesel.
The French manufacturer has taken pole position in each of the last three years, and in 2008 conspired to lose the race despite enjoying a significant pace advantage over its rival Audi R10.
The Peugeot Sport team had to raise its game considerably this time to see off the challenge of Audi's new R15, which was able to lap much closer to the speed of the 908 than its predecessor.
Whereas last year Peugeot was plagued by reliability woes and caught out by heavy rain during the night, this year it enjoyed a relatively smooth run for its lead car, while the majority of the dramas struck the Audi team.
It wasn't all plain sailing, though. The race was not yet an hour old when the #7 908's chances of victory all but vanished.
With question marks hanging over whether or not the Peugeot team could compete with the flawless efficiency of the Joest Audi squad over a 24-hour period, it released Pedro Lamy's car into the path of its own customer 908, run by Pescarolo.
The resulting puncture and repairs meant that one of the works effort's three cars was seven laps down inside 60 minutes.
The pole-sitting #8 Peugeot also hit trouble. The crew enjoyed a sizable lead in the early stages following an excellent opening stint of the race by Franck Montagny. But it was still light on Saturday evening when its hopes began to fade as well.
The car spent 10 minutes in the garage having its left-rear upright rebuilt and rejoined a couple of laps off the lead. Montagny, Stephane Sarrazin and Sebastien Bourdais charged non-stop through the night - with Bourdais producing a particularly impressive stint - to drag the car back into contention.
Had it been chasing an Audi, there may well have been a battle to remember throughout Sunday, but unfortunately for the drivers of the #8 car, the #9 908 had already cemented a solid lead.
Alexander Wurz took over the lead of the race aboard #9 when the #8 hit trouble on Saturday, and he, David Brabham and Marc Gene kept up a relentless pace right through the night.
The #8 was closing, but by morning the #9 car had been out front for more than half the race distance and, remembering the heartbreak of last year, the team elected not to allow either car to take any unnecessary risks. With the gap at around two minutes, the crews were given their instructions to bring it home in one piece.
Again, had there been an Audi in the mix, Peugeot wouldn't have been afforded that luxury. But, for once, Audi was too busy having struggles of its own.
It too effectively lost one of its trio at the start when a power steering failure caused Alexandre Premat to lose control of the #3 car in the right-hand kink at Indianapolis on lap three.
Premat went straight on into the wall at the left-hander. He was able to limp back to the pits but was two laps down before he rejoined. That was only the beginning for the #3 car, which flew off the road several more times during the race and made plenty of visits to the garage with niggling reliability issues.
The #2 car of Lucas Luhr, Mike Rockenfeller and Marco Werner was in touch with the #1 sister car early in the race - even ahead at times. But its hopes were short-lived as Luhr crashed out in the Porsche Curves on Saturday evening with a suspected mechanical failure the cause.
If one Audi was ever going to take the charge to the Peugeots, it was going to be the #1 car of Allan McNish, Tim Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello. But even last year's winners could only mount a stifled attempt to once more prevent Peugeot from winning.
McNish was unhappy with the handling of the car at the beginning of the race, and it was several hours in before the R15 was able to lap at a pace to rival the Peugeots. By then, the French cars had a lap's cushion and Audi needed to rely on their rivals encountering problems.
There was trouble, but unusually it befell the German car this time. McNish pitted the #1 car for fuel from second place with four hours remaining, but he had to return a lap later with a loss of power. A change of steering wheel made no difference and he was back again a lap later. The resulting repairs cost the car four laps and with them went any hope of spoiling Peugeot's party.
Behind the diesels, the Aston Martin Racing Lolas had an impressive LMP1 debut, even threatening the R15s at one point. The challenge of the #008 car fell away with gearbox problems during the night, but the #007 remained in contention for the duration.
Tomas Enge eventually brought the car home in fourth place, just three laps behind the lead works Audi.
The #11 ORECA earned fifth place with a quiet and unspectacular drive, while the #7 Peugeot recovered its way up to sixth place from the early pitlane incident.
The #14 Kolles-run Audi R10 was an impressive seventh, with Andre Lotterer and Charles Zwolsman completing the full distance between the two of them after Narain Karthikeyan dislocated his shoulder climbing over the pit wall shortly before the start of the race.
The Pescarolo-run Peugeot had looked well set in fourth place, even after being the victim in Peugeot's pitlane blunder, but it was eliminated in the early hours of Sunday morning when Benoit Treluyer had a huge crash at the Esses before Tertre Rouge.
The Frenchman's accident happened just two corners into his out-lap after the car had been returned to the pits for lengthy repairs.
For the second year in succession, the somewhat thin LMP2 class promised a closely-fought head-to-head scrap between two Porsche RS Spyders. Whereas in 2008 the Team Essex car lost out to Van Merksteijn, this year the team triumphed over Team Goh - who had bought last year's winning car.
Essex had the edge over Goh throughout the event, but there was rarely anything to choose between them on pace. They were separated by mere seconds for most of the first eight hours, until the momentum swung in Essex's favour.
The Goh car lost two laps with a suspension problem late on Saturday evening and never recovered the lost time. The Japanese-run car was still set for a strong second until Seiji Ara had a big crash after spinning on oil dropped by RML's LMP2 Lola on the Mulsanne Straight.
That left the #33 Speedy Racing Sebah Lola as the only other LMP2 car running anywhere near competitively, and even that was 14 laps adrift of the Essex car after a long delay caused by a damaged diffuser on Saturday evening, followed by persistent alternator problems on Sunday morning.
The battle for GT1 honours was, as expected, fought purely between the two factory Chevrolet Corvettes. Any faint hopes that the JetAlliance Aston Martin DBR9 would be able to remain in touch evaporated in the first five minutes of the race when Lucas Lichtner-Hoyer returned the car to the pits in need of a new alternator.
Things went from bad to worse for the JetAlliance team as a spate of problems and off-track excursions dropped it further out of contention on Saturday afternoon. That the car still finished fourth in class, 47 laps behind the winner, underlines just how thin the GT1 field was.
The JLOC team had its garage door permanently closed with its Lamborghini Murcielago having completed just one lap. That left only the Alphand Adventures Corvettes, which were never likely to threaten the works cars.
The two works Corvette Racing crews did their utmost to provide a spectacle and were still squabbling for the lead 21 hours into the race. The #63 car of Jan Magnussen, Johnny O'Connell and Antonio Garcia was eventually left to cruise to victory when the #64 car ground to a halt with just two hours remaining.
The GT2 class was the polar opposite of its GT1 cousin, for the first half of the race at least. Four of the leading cars ran nose-to-tail during the first two hours on Saturday in a thrilling dice that unfortunately couldn't last for the whole distance.
The pole-winning Team Felbermayr Porsche was first to fall by the wayside. Richard Lietz picked up a puncture and dropped out of the lead battle, and the car was forced into retirement just under two hours into the race when the reserve fuel line failed and the car ran out of petrol at the pitlane entry.
Porsche still had the upper hand in the early stages thanks to the Flying Lizards and IMSA cars edging away from the Risi Competizione and Farnbacher Ferrari 430s.
The first six GT2 cars were still within a lap of each other six hours into the race, but the Risi car was soon able to pull clear as the remaining Porsches hit trouble.
The IMSA car had to make a lengthy stop to have its engine restrictor replaced early on Saturday evening. It was still circulating just out of reach of the class leaders until Sunday morning when a transmission problem eventually halted its charge.
The Flying Lizards Porsche was a force at the front of the class early in the race with Jorg Bergmeister behind the wheel, but it lost several laps when Seth Nieman had an off on Saturday evening, and then retired for good when Darren Law crashed it early on Sunday morning.
The Ferraris didn't need much of an invitation from the struggling Porsches to take over the class, and the Risi car hit the front at one quarter distance. A stop-go penalty to punish Mika Salo for corner cutting wasn't enough to halt its charge and the team had a lap's lead by nightfall. The advantage was doubled by sunrise and the experienced crew guided the car home without drama on Sunday.
The JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Rob Bell, Andrew Kirkaldy and Tim Sugden settled into second place during the night, but the team struggled with clutch problems on Sunday morning before a suspension failure had the 430 limping back to the pits on three wheels by lunch time.
That allowed the BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari of Matteo Malucelli, Paolo Ruberti and Fabio Babini to move into second place, with the second Risi 430 completing the class podium.
77th Le Mans 24 Hours - CLASSIFIED:
|Peugeot Sport Total||Peugeot 908 HDi FAP||382|
|Team Peugeot Total||Peugeot 908 HDi FAP||381|
|Audi Sport Team Joest||Audi R15 TDI||376|
|AMR Eastern Europe||Lola-Aston Martin B09/60||373|
|Team Oreca Matmut AIM||Oreca 01-AIM||370|
|Team Peugeot Total||Peugeot 908 HDi FAP||369|
|Kolles||Audi R10 TDI||369|
|Pescarolo Sport||Pescarolo 01-Judd||368|
|Kolles||Audi R10 TDI||360|
|Team Essex||Porsche RS Spyder||357|
|Signature Plus||Courage-Oreca LC70E-Judd||344|
|Speedy Racing Team Sebah||Lola B08/80-Judd||343|
|Aston Martin Racing||Lola-Aston Martin B09/60||342|
|Speedy Racing Team Sebah||Lola B08/60-Aston Martin||342|
|Corvette Racing||Corvette C6.R||342|
|Luc Alphand Aventures||Corvette C6.R||336|
|Audi Sport Team Joest||Audi R15 TDI||333|
|Risi Competizione||Ferrari F430 GT2||329|
|BMS Scuderia Italia||Ferrari F430 GT2||327|
|OAK Racing||Pescarolo 01-Mazda||325|
|Strakka Racing||Ginetta-Zytek 09S||325|
van de Poele
|Risi Competizione||Ferrari F430 GT2||323|
|JMW Motorsport||Ferrari F430 GT2||320|
|Creation Autosportif||Creation CA07-Judd||319|
|Snoras Spyker Squadron||Spyker C8 Laviolette GT2-R||319|
|AF Corse||Ferrari F430 GT2||317|
|Team Modena||Ferrari F430 GT2||314|
|Team Barazi-Epsilon||Zytek 07S/2||306|
|JMB Racing||Ferrari F430 GT2||304|
|Team Advanced Engineering||Ferrari F430 GT2||301|
|Jetalliance Racing||Aston Martin DBR9||294|
|Virgo Motorsport||Ferrari F430 GT2||280|
NOT CLASSIFIED / RETIREMENTS:
|NAVI Team Goh||Porsche RS Spyder||339|
|Corvette Racing||Corvette C6.R||311|
|Ray Mallock Ltd.||Lola B08/86-Mazda||273|
|Drayson Racing||Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT2||272|
|IMSA Performance Matmut||Porsche 997 GT3-RSR||265|
|Kruse-Schiller Motorsport||Lola B07/46-Mazda||261|
|Aston Martin Racing||Lola-Aston Martin B09/60||252|
|Team Oreca Matmut AIM||Oreca 01-AIM||219|
|Pescarolo Sport||Peugeot 908 HDi FAP||210|
|OAK Racing||Pescarolo 01-Mazda||208|
|Racing Box||Lola B08/80-Judd||203|
|Flying Lizard Motorsports||Porsche 997 GT3-RSR||194|
|Endurance Asia Team||Porsche 997 GT3-RSR||186|
|Hankook Farnbacher Racing||Ferrari F430 GT2||183|
|Team LNT||Ginetta-Zytek 09S||178|
|Audi Sport North America||Audi R15 TDI||104|
|GAC Racing Team||Zytek 07S/2||102|
|IMSA Performance Matmut||Porsche 997 GT3-RSR||102|
|Luc Alphand Aventures||Corvette C6.R||99|
|Bruichladdich Bruneau Team||Radical SR9-AER||91|
|Quifel ASM Team||Ginetta-Zytek 09S/2||46|
|Team Felbermayr-Proton||Porsche 997 GT3-RSR||24|
|JLOC Isao Noritake||Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT||1|