Peugeot takes win at Spa
Just like the first two rounds of the 2008 Le Mans Series, the 1,000km de Spa-Francorchamps turned out to be yet another fiercely-disputed, drama-filled race. The result saw Team Peugeot Total claim its third success from three starts without suffering the slightest technical problem. Nicolas Minassian, Marc Gene and Jacques Villeneuve shared the winning N7 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP, but the team's other car crashed out shortly after the two-hour mark.
The Belgian Ardennes were bathed in glorious summer sunshine throughout the weekend and an impressive crowd of 35,000 spectators turned out to watch the 42 starters begin the race behind the Safety Car following an off by a competitor during the formation lap. When the cars were finally unleashed, Pedro Lamy got away cleanly with the N8908 HDi FAP N8 and soon started to pull clear of his chasers, putting five seconds between his Peugeot and the Audi R10 of McNish who was coming under pressure from Nicolas Minassian in the other 908 HDi FAP. The scrap between the two began in earnest on Lap 21 and ended in a virile clash on Lap 35 during which neither driver was prepared to give way and both were forced to take to the grass through Combes. The last word went to Nicolas Minassian, however, which left the two Peugeots lapping in first and second places for the rest of their double-stint. The first driver changes on Lap 44 saw Villeneuve take over from Minassian, but the N8 car dropped 35 seconds in the pits when the engine was accidentally switched off with Wurz on board. The Austrian re-joined in third place behind Capello's Audi and began to push hard to make up the gap which was closed on Lap 56. As Wurz came up to pass a Spyker, however, the two cars touched and the Austrian crashed hard in a tire wall, taking with him the hapless Capello who was able to re-join, albeit with a damaged car. "It all happened so quickly," explained Alexander Wurz. "I was pulling back in front of the Spyker when the rear right of my car hit it, and that sent me into a spin. I couldn't avoid hitting the Audi and I would like apologize for that, just as I would like to say sorry to everyone at Peugeot whose excellent work had given us a fantastic car."
Jacques Villeneuve handed over to Marc Gene who went on to post the fastest race lap before the Spaniard handed back over to Nicolas Minassian, as the three drivers took turns to head the field without suffering the slightest technical or strategic problem.
In the Drivers' standings, Minassian/Gene now top the standings, equal with Rockenfeller/Premat, while Peugeot has lost its advantage in the Manufacturers' table to Audi by two points.
Jacques VILLENEUVE: "I thoroughly enjoyed the race. We had a good fight and the three of us did a good job together. The weekend was excellent preparation for the Le Mans 24 Hours and it was also very nice to win a race again. My last victory dated back to the 1997 Luxemburg Grand Prix!"
Nicolas MINASSIAN: "I suffered quite badly with oversteer during my first stint but everything returned to normal once new tires were fitted and I had a great scrap with McNish. I left my braking as late as possible, and he braked even later, and we both end up crossing the grass. It was close, but perfectly fair and square! I spent the rest of the race enjoying the afternoon with my two team- mates."
Marc GENE: "'Nico' did most of the work. It's a good result in championship terms and I'm delighted that the team brought in Jacques for this race to help us prepare for Le Mans."
Michel BARGE: "Peugeot has kept up its unbeaten run in the Le Mans Series and we were also pleased that we chose to use Spa to prepare for Le Mans by entering three-drivers for both cars. That doesn't necessarily mean we are perfectly ready for Le Mans; we still have a great deal of work to do, especially following the accident of the N8 car. Unfortunately, that's racing. Mixing cars of differing performance levels is one of the draws of this discipline, but it's also its biggest difficulty."
Bruno FAMIN: "We didn't have any technical problems whatsoever. The engine cut on the N8 car following an erroneous maneuver during the driver change. The N8 car's crash has obviously made life more complicated for us, but it isn't the first challenge we have had to rise to!" Peugeot