Peugeot finally wins Le Mans with 908

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

Peugeot finally wins Le Mans with 908

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:

Pos Class Drivers Team Make Laps
1. LMP1 Brabham
Gene
Wurz
Peugeot Sport Total Peugeot 908 HDi FAP 382
2. LMP1 Bourdais
Montagny
Sarrazin
Team Peugeot Total Peugeot 908 HDi FAP 381
3. LMP1 Capello
Kristensen
McNish
Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R15 TDI 376
4. LMP1 Charouz
Enge
Mucke
AMR Eastern Europe Lola-Aston Martin B09/60 373
5. LMP1 Panis
Lapierre
Ayari
Team Oreca Matmut AIM Oreca 01-AIM 370
6. LMP1 Minassian
Lamy
Klien
Team Peugeot Total Peugeot 908 HDi FAP 369
7. LMP1 Zwolsman Jr
Karthikeyan
Lotterer
Kolles Audi R10 TDI 369
8. LMP1 Tinseau
Juoanny
Barbosa
Pescarolo Sport Pescarolo 01-Judd 368
9. LMP1 Albers
Bakkerud
Mondini
Kolles Audi R10 TDI 360
10. LMP2 Elgaard
Poulsen
Collard
Team Essex Porsche RS Spyder 357
11. LMP1 Ragues
Mailleux
Andre
Signature Plus Courage-Oreca LC70E-Judd 344
12. LMP2 Leuenberger
Pompidou
Kane
Speedy Racing Team Sebah Lola B08/80-Judd 343
13. LMP1 Davidson
Turner
Verstappen
Aston Martin Racing Lola-Aston Martin B09/60 342
14. LMP1 Belicchi
Prost
Jani
Speedy Racing Team Sebah Lola B08/60-Aston Martin 342
15. GT1 O'Connell
Magnussen
Garcia
Corvette Racing Corvette C6.R 342
16. GT1 Maassen
Jousse
Clairay
Luc Alphand Aventures Corvette C6.R 336
17. LMP1 Bernhard
Premat
Dumas
Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R15 TDI 333
18. GT2 Melo
Kaffer
Salo
Risi Competizione Ferrari F430 GT2 329
19. GT2 Babini
Malucelli
Ruberti
BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari F430 GT2 327
20. LMP2 Nicolet
Hein
Yvon
OAK Racing Pescarolo 01-Mazda 325
21. LMP1 Hardman
Leventis
Watts
Strakka Racing Ginetta-Zytek 09S 325
22. GT2 Krohn
van de Poele
Jonsson
Risi Competizione Ferrari F430 GT2 323
23. GT2 Bell
Kirkaldy
Sugden
JMW Motorsport Ferrari F430 GT2 320
24. LMP1 Campbell-Walter
Ickx
Ianetta
Creation Autosportif Creation CA07-Judd 319
25. GT2 Coronel
Bleekemolen
Janis
Snoras Spyker Squadron Spyker C8 Laviolette GT2-R 319
26. GT2 Bruni
Perez Companc
Russo
AF Corse Ferrari F430 GT2 317
27. GT2 Mansell
Ehret
Rusinov
Team Modena Ferrari F430 GT2 314
28. LMP2 Barazi
Moseley
Bennett
Team Barazi-Epsilon Zytek 07S/2 306
29. GT2 Rodrigues
Lebon
Bouchut
JMB Racing Ferrari F430 GT2 304
30. GT2 Dempsey
Kitch Jr
Foster
Team Advanced Engineering Ferrari F430 GT2 301
31. GT1 Lichtner-Hoyer
Gruber
Muller
Jetalliance Racing Aston Martin DBR9 294
32. GT2 McInerney
McInerney
Vergers
Virgo Motorsport Ferrari F430 GT2 280

NOT CLASSIFIED / RETIREMENTS:

LMP2 Ara
Kunimoto
Maassen
NAVI Team Goh Porsche RS Spyder 339
GT1 Gavin
Beretta
Fassler
Corvette Racing Corvette C6.R 311
LMP2 Newton
Erdos
Dyson
Ray Mallock Ltd. Lola B08/86-Mazda 273
GT2 Drayson
Cocker
Franchitti
Drayson Racing Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT2 272
GT2 Pilet
Narac
Long
IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche 997 GT3-RSR 265
LMP2 Noda
Marsh
de Pourtales
Kruse-Schiller Motorsport Lola B07/46-Mazda 261
LMP1 Hall
Primat
Kox
Aston Martin Racing Lola-Aston Martin B09/60 252
LMP1 Ortelli
Senna
Monteiro
Team Oreca Matmut AIM Oreca 01-AIM 219
LMP1 Boullion
Pagenaud
Treluyer
Pescarolo Sport Peugeot 908 HDi FAP 210
LMP2 Laheye
Ajlani
Moreau
OAK Racing Pescarolo 01-Mazda 208
LMP2 Piccini
Biagi
Bobbi
Racing Box Lola B08/80-Judd 203
GT2 Bergmeister
Law
Neiman
Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 997 GT3-RSR 194
GT2 O'Young
Hesnault
Kralev
Endurance Asia Team Porsche 997 GT3-RSR 186
GT2 Farnbacher
Simonsen
Montanari
Hankook Farnbacher Racing Ferrari F430 GT2 183
LMP1 Tomlinson
Dean
Moore
Team LNT Ginetta-Zytek 09S 178
LMP1 Rockenfeller
Werner
Luhr
Audi Sport North America Audi R15 TDI 104
LMP2 Ojjeh
Gosselin
Peter
GAC Racing Team Zytek 07S/2 102
GT2 Felbermayr Sr
Felbermayr Jr
Lecourt
IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche 997 GT3-RSR 102
GT1 Alphand
Gregoire
Goueslard
Luc Alphand Aventures Corvette C6.R 99
LMP2 Bruneau
Rostan
Greaves
Bruichladdich Bruneau Team Radical SR9-AER 91
LMP2 Amaral
Pla
Smith
Quifel ASM Team Ginetta-Zytek 09S/2 46
GT2 Lieb
Henzler
Lietz
Team Felbermayr-Proton Porsche 997 GT3-RSR 24
GT1 Yogo
Yamagishi
Apicella
JLOC Isao Noritake Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT 1
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