Peugeot takes defeat in stride
The 2008 Le Mans 24 Hours produced one of the most exciting finishes in years and ended with Team Peugeot Total securing its second consecutive second place with the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP in the famous endurance race. The N°7 car shared by Marc Gené/Nicolas Minassian/Jacques Villeneuve emerged from the rainy early morning as the team's best chance for victory and the trio never gave up the chase.
|The No. 9 Peugeot soldiered home in 3rd place|
The N°7 car was joined on the podium at the finish by the N°9 sister car of Franck Montagny/Ricardo Zonta/Christian Klien, while the third Peugeot 908 HDi FAP made it three cars in the final top-five. Inevitably, however, there was a sense of frustration within the team for not having succeeded in pulling off what it saw as its principal challenge of the 2008 season.
Despite the disappointment of not reaping the rewards of all the effort and energy invested in what was always seen as the highlight of Team Peugeot Total's 2008 program, the Peugeot 908 HDi FAPs lost no time in revealing their competitive potential by qualifying on the first three places of Saturday afternoon's grid. The Peugeot 908 HDi FAPs then went on to practically dominate the first 14 or so hours of the race.
The N°8 Peugeot of Lamy/Sarrazin/Wurz emerged as the early pace-setter during the first two hours, but it then fell back after suffering a gear selection problem which took six laps to resolve. The N°7 car briefly inherited top spot before allowing the N°9 Peugeot of Montagny/Zonta/Klien to move into the lead following an incisive quadruple stint from Franck Montagny. As night began to fall, however, then leader Christian Klien (Peugeot N°9) was nudged into a gravel trap while overtaking a slower competitor. The N°7 sister car profited from the incident to ease into the provisional lead shortly after 10pm.
Marc Gené, Nicolas Minassian and Jacques Villeneuve consequently led the 2008 Le Mans 24 Hours for much of the night, even when rain began to fall over the French venue shortly after 4 o'clock in the morning, although this change in the conditions gave their rivals a new lease of life. By 5.17am, the N°2 Audi was in front, and it then profited from the wet weather to gradually extend its advantage. Meanwhile, Franck Montagny (Peugeot N°9) succeeded in stealing third place back from the N°3 Audi.
The ferocity of the race became more intense when rain started to fall again over certain portions of the track with one hour remaining. With nothing to lose, Nicolas Minassian decided to stay out on slicks while the N°2 Audi stopped to fit rain tires. It was a gamble but, in the end, the gap between the top-two cars remained basically unchanged all the rest of the way to the checkered flag.
Team Peugeot Total nonetheless left Le Mans with a spectacular record to its credit: that of the fastest ever race lap in the 24-hour classic which was the work of Stéphane Sarrazin on his 102nd lap of the 13.629km circuit which he covered at an average speed of 246.068kph in the N°8 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP. In doing so, he also came within a whisker of the benchmark lap-time of Jackie Oliver which stands since 1971 (a 3m 18.4s, but posted without the Hunaudières Straight chicanes!) thanks to a 3m 19.394s on Saturday evening!
Michel BARGE (Director, Peugeot Sport): "My congratulations go to Audi. We were here as challengers, and I think we gave them a good run for their money. It was a thrilling duel and we will be back next year to fight again. We go away with much that was positive, too. We came exceedingly close to pulling off an exploit and I believe we produced a first class overall performance. It was towards the end of the night that we lost all chance of winning but we managed to finish hard on the heels of a very worthy opponent. That's something I won't forget in a long time. The drivers and all the technical squad did a great job and we all have the motivation to win. We establish objectives for ourselves; that's how we progress."
Bruno FAMIN (Technical Director, Peugeot Sport): "It was an exceptional fight and an absolutely thrilling race. Nothing can ever replace actual competition, especially at Le Mans. We lack experience and we also hit on two problems we had never previously encountered with the 908: a faulty battery and a problem with a gear selection component. We'll be back in 2008 and we have already profited from the weekend to start work on the 2009 Le Mans 24 Hours."
Franck MONTAGNY (N°9 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP): "I've obviously got mixed feelings about this weekend's result, but I am pleased to have finished on the podium. It was a very close race and the conditions were very difficult. We lacked experience, but I also had some unforgettable moments this weekend, and had a fantastic time at the wheel of the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP."
Nicolas MINASSIAN (N°7 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP): "We knew it would be difficult, but I'm disappointed not to have won. It has to be said, though, that our opponents did a remarkable job. At the very end of the race, we did everything we could to catch them. We stayed out on slicks in the rain and then gambled on rain tires because we were still some way back and we had to try something. We will now have to analyze everything that happened this weekend to come back even stronger than ever."
Marc GENE (N°7 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP): "The early part of the race was more straightforward because the conditions were dry. After that, in the rain, we failed to optimize the use of our tires in the same way as our rivals. Even so, we crossed the line in second place and that's a result I would gladly have signed up for this time last week."
Jacques VILLENEUVE (N°7 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP): "It's nice to finish on the podium, but I'm also disappointed not to have won because that was our objective. But our rivals did an excellent job."
Christian KLIEN (N°9 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP): "It was a great experience for my debut on this legendary event. I am pleased to have finished on the podium at first attempt. We lacked experience and that caused us to lose time. The Peugeot 908 HDi FAP is a fantastic car. Peugeot PR