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Le Mans, France, 13 – 14 June 2009

In the 77th running of the Le Mans 24 Hour Race, it was third time lucky for the Lion of Peugeot, when they finally overcame the dominance of the four rings of Audi, to take a strong 1-2 win in the epic endurance race battle at La Sarthe. In their previous two encounters, in 2007 and 2008, Peugeot have proved to have the edge in terms of speed, but have lacked in luck and reliability, but in 2009 it all came good for them, although it wasn’t an easy run to victory. During the course of the race both the major players suffered a variety of problems, some self induced, but at the end of the day the cards fell the way of Peugeot.

The Wednesday evening free practice sessions were blighted by rain, but the Thursday qualifying sessions showed that Peugeot once again held the advantage in terms of outright speed, and this year this translated into victory. Both the Peugeot and Audi works teams had three car entries, plus Peugeot had a Pescarolo run example of the 908 HDi-FAP as a back up, whilst Audi had the pair of Kolles run R10 TDIs to back up their R15 TDIs. With a total of nine diesel entries, and the current equivalency formula, this left the petrol engine runners to pick up the crumbs in the LMP1 category. These were headed by a trio of works Lola Aston Martins, Speedy Racing Sebah’s Lola Aston Martin and Lola Judd, a pair of Oreca AIMs and a single Pescarolo Judd, within a healthy twenty car LMP1 entry. At the end of the qualifying sessions, it was the # 8 Peugeot of Sarrazin / Montagny / Bourdais that annexed pole position with a time of 3min 22.888secs, which was 0.762sec ahead of the quickest # 1 Audi of Capello / Kristensen / McNish, followed by the # 7, # 17 and # 9 Peugeots in that order. The # 2 and # 3 Audis were next up, followed by a trio of Lola Aston Martins, the quickest of the petrol engine machines, although the fastest # 007 example of Charouz / Enge / Muecke was 4.292secs and around 5kph off the pole winning time. Theoretically, at that rate the pole winning Peugeot would be 120kms, or nearly nine laps, ahead of the Aston Martin by the end of the race.

The LMP2 group consisted of twelve cars, and the times were headed by a pair of Porsche RS Spyders, the Team Essex example of Elgaard/Collard/Poulson beating the Navi Team Goh example of Ara/Kunimoto/Maassen to the class pole by 0.082sec. The LMGT1 class had the least number of entries, with six cars taking the grid, a quartet of Corvette C6.Rs, an Aston Martin DBR9 and a Lamborghini Murcielago. The pair of works Corvettes were the quickest in the class, with the example of O’Connell / Magnussen / Garcia a fraction under half a second quicker than the sister car of Gavin / Beretta / Faessler. The LMGT2 class comprised of seventeen cars, ten of which were Ferrari F430 GTs, along with five Porsche 997 GT3 RSRs, and singleton entries for Aston Martin and Spyker. The class pole was won by the Flying Lizard Porsche of Neiman / Law / Bergmeister, 0.030sec ahead of the Felbermayr Proton example of Lieb / Lietz / Henzler, followed by the Risi Competizione Ferrari F430 GTC of Melo / Kaffer / Salo.

The official race starter was Luca de Montezemolo, President of Ferrari SpA, who gave a press conference prior to the start, with Amadeo Felissa and Stefano Domenicali also in attendance, plus ex-Ferrari F1 driver, Jean Alesi also put in an appearance. Naturally the focus from journalists was more on the F1 budget proposals for 2010, and Ferrari’s threat to withdraw if they are mandated. Luca de Montezemolo was adamant that Ferrari wouldn’t accept the proposals as they stand, and that he felt that there too many changes being made too quickly without proper consultation. When asked whether there was a chance of seeing a works Ferrari at Le Mans next year, there was a prolonged silence and glances towards his colleagues, before a brief “why not”! He added that he didn’t think that a Ferrari could beat the diesels within the current regulations. Ferrari haven’t entered endurance races as a works team for over thirty years, so does the appearance of three such high profile figures at Le Mans herald the start of a new era, or is it gamesmanship with the FIA?
The race started promptly with a rolling start at 15.00 on a very hot (28degC) Saturday afternoon, and to the delight of a large partisan crowd the pole sitting # 8 Peugeot went into an immediate lead, and started to pull away from the pursuing # 1 Audi. There was even greater delight and a tremendous roar, when the # 7 Peugeot passed the Audi to take 2nd place. The GT1 Lamborghini, lasted only one lap before retiring with engine maladies pictures of that in action are going to be rare, whilst the JetAlliance Aston Martin went into the pits at the end of lap 1 with electrical problems, rejoining after a lengthy stop. Towards the front of the field the # 3 Audi driven by Alexandre Prémat was in trouble after only nine minutes, when he went off and hit the tyre wall at Indianapolis, returning to the pits after extrication from the gravel trap. Peugeot encountered a problem after 45 minutes, at the first round of pit stops, when their # 7 car was released into the path of the # 17 Pescarolo entered example, the two colliding, puncturing the rear tyre of the # 7 car, which had to do a complete lap, while the tyre flailed the bodywork to shreds around the track, necessitating the deployment of the safety car whilst the debris was removed. Upon eventually returning to the pits, the team changed the turbo, the FAP particle filter and oil radiator, and rebuilt the left rear corner of the car, all in around 20 minutes. Not long after it was Audis turn again or damage problems, when the # 1 car had to pit for a new nose after hitting somebody or something!

Worse was yet to come for Audi, as their # 2 car driven by Lucas Luhr crashed heavily in the Porsche Curves just after quarter distance, causing immediate retirement, after having been swapping 3rd and 4th places with the sister # 1 car for much of the race up to that point. Meanwhile the # 9 Peugeot was smoothly dictating the race from the front. Just over an hour later the # 1 Audi had to make an unscheduled stop, which cost it almost a lap, and allowed the # 8 Peugeot to take over its hard fought 2nd place. Shortly afterwards the # 8 Peugeot collided with a GT2 Porsche, and had to pit to change the nose, handing 2nd place back to the # 1 Audi. With the retirement of the # 2 Audi and the earlier accident for the # 3 Audi, this was the only one with a chance of victory, but Peugeot still had three cars in contention for the win, so the odds were stacked against the Audi.

Around 4.00am the # 17 Pescarolo Sport entered Peugeot, driven by Benoit Treluyer, had a massive accident at the Esses de la Chapelle, which slightly redressed the Audi/Peugeot balance. This didn’t last for long as during the safety car period for this accident the # 1 Audi started to suffer from an overheating turbo, and had to pit to resolve the problem. Although the Capello / Kristensen / McNish trio pushed hard, they continued to suffer from overheating in the turbo system, so had to pit regularly to clear out the dust, gravel, rubber, carbon, etc which were blocking the ventilation holes. This problem, together with steering wheel problems later in the race, effectively ended any chance of victory, unless the Peugeots failed completely. They didn’t, and the # 9 car of Gené / Wurz / Brabham led the sister # 8 car of Sarrazin / Montagny / Bourdais across the line at 3.00pm on Sunday afternoon, with the final spot on the podium being the reward for the # 1 Audi of Capello / Kristensen / McNish. The # 007 Lola Aston Martin of Charouz / Enge / Muecke was the best petrol engine finisher in 4th overall, 9 laps behind the winner.

In the LMP2 category it was a race between the Porsche RS Spyders of Team Essex and Navi Team Goh, which raged for the best part of the race. That was until the Navi Team Goh example crashed out at the Playstation chicane with 75 minutes remaining, whilst lying 2nd in class, virtually destroying the car on the spot, but the driver, Seiji Ara, was able to walk away from the scene unaided. This handed 2nd place to the Speedy Racing Sebah entered Lola Judd of Kane / Leuenberger / Pompidou, which finished 14 laps behind the class winner, with the OAK Racing Pescarolo Mazda of Nicolet / Hein / Yvon a further 18 laps back to take the final podium spot.

In the small GT1 group, victory went to the # 63 Corvette of O’Connell / Magnussen / Garcia, with the sister car of Gavin / Beretta / Faessler being a late race retirement with transmission problems. 2nd in class was the similar # 73 Corvette C6.R entered by Luc Alphand Aventures of Clairay / Jousse / Maassen, with the JetAlliance Aston Martin DBR9 of Lichtner-Hoyer / Mueller / Gruber overcoming numerous problems to take the final podium slot, and to be the only other class finisher. In the GT2 division ten FerrariF430 GTs started and nine finished, the only retirement being the Hankook-Farnbacher example, which retired with overheating problems. The same could not be said for the five Porshes in the class, as four retired and the fifth didn’t cover the mandatory 70% of the winner’s distance to be classified. The Spyker made it through to the chequered flag in 5th place, but it was an all Ferrari GT2 podium, with the # 82 Risi Competizione example of Melo / Kaffer / Salo giving the team its second consecutive Le Mans GT2 class victory. In 2nd place was the # 97 BMS Scuderia Italia example of Malucelli / Ruberti / Babini, with the final podium spot going to the second Risi Competizione # 83 car of Krohn / Jonsson / Van de Poele, after the JMW entry suffered late race problems to finally finish 4th in class after a strong early performance. At the end of the day, 32 of the original 55 starters were classified as finishers, it was a race packed with incidents, seven safety car periods, with mechanical and on track problems taking their toll in the hot conditions, but that is what Le Mans is all about.

Keith Bluemel


9 Peugeot 908 Hdi-FAP - GENE Marc/WURZ Alexander/BRABHAM David 1st OA 1st LMP1

8 Peugeot 908 Hdi-FAP SARRAZIN Stephane/MONTAGNY Franck/BOURDAIS Sebastie - 2nd OA 2nd LMP1 - 1 Lap

1 Audi R15 TDI - CAPELLO Rinaldo/KRISTENSEN Tom/MCNISH Allan 3rd OA 3rd LMP1 - 6 Laps

007 Lola Aston Martin - CHAROUZ Jan/ENGE Thomas/MUCKE Stefan 4th OA 4th LMP1 -9 Laps

11 Oreca AIM - PANIS Olivier/LAPIERRE Nicolas/AYARI Soheil 5th OA 5th LMP1 -12 Laps

7 Peugeot 908 Hdi-FAP - MINASSIAN Nicolas/LAMY Pedro/KLIEN Christian 6th OA 6th LMP1 -13 Laps

14 Audi R10 TDI - LOTTERER Andre/ZWOLSMAN Charles 7th OA 7th LMP1 -13 Laps

16 Pescarolo Judd - TINSEAU Christophe/JOUANNY Bruce/BARBOSA Joao 8th OA 8th LMP1 - 14 Laps

15 Audi R10 TDI - ALBERS Christian/BAKKERUD Christian/MONDINI Giorgio 9th OA 9th LMP1 -22 Laps

31 Porsche RS Spyder - ELGAARD Casper/COLLARD Emmanuel/POULSEN Kristian  10th OA 1st LMP2 - 25 Laps

12 Oreca Judd - RAGUES Pierre/MAILLEUX Franck/ANDRE Didier 11th OA 11th LMP1  -38 Laps

33 Lola Judd - Sebah KANE Jonny/LEUENBERGER Benjamin/POMPIDOU Xavier 12th OA 2nd LMP2 -39 Laps

008 Lola Aston Martin - DAVIDSON A/TURNER D/VERSTAPPEN Jos 13th OA 11th LMP1 -40 Laps

13 Lola Aston Martin - Sebah BELICCHI Andrea/JANI Neel/PROST Nicolas 14th OA 12th LMP1 -40 Laps

63 Corvette C6.R - O CONNELL Johny/MAGNUSSEN Jan/GARCIA Antonio 15th OA 1st LMGT1 - 40 Laps

73 Corvette C6.R - D Alphand Aventures CLAIRAY Yan/JOUSSE Julien/MAASSEN Xavier 16th OA 2nd LMGT1 -46 Laps

3 Audi R15 TDI - BERNHARD Timo/DUMAS Romain/PREMAT Alexandre - 17th OA 13th LMP1 -49 Laps

82 Ferrari F430 GT - MELO Jaime/KAFFER Pierre/SALO Mika 18th OA 1st LMGT2 - 53 Laps

97 Ferrari F430 GT - MALUCELLI Matteo/RUBERTI Paolo/BABINI Fabio 19th OA 2nd LMGT2 -55 Laps

24 Pescarolo Mazda - NICOLET Jacques/HEIN Richard/YVON Jean-Francois 20th OA LMP2 -57 Laps

23 Ginetta Zytek - WATTS Danny/LEVENTIS Nick/HARDMAN Peter 21st OA 14th LMP1 -57 Laps

83 Ferrari F430 GT - KROHN Tracy/JONSSON Nic/VAN DE POELE Eric 22nd OA 3rd LMGT2 -59 Laps

92 Ferrari F430 GT - BELL Robert/KIRKALDY Andrew/SUGDEN Tim 23rd OA 4th LMGT2 -62 Laps

4 Creation Judd - CAMPBELLWALTER Jamie/ICKX Vanina/IANNETTA Romain 24th OA 15th LMP1 -63 Laps

85 Spyker C8 Laviolette  - CORONEL Tom/JANIS Jarek/BLEEKEMOLEN Jeroen 25th OA 5th  LMGT2 - 63 Laps

78 Ferrari F430 GT - BRUNI Gianmaria/COMPANC Luis/RUSSO Matias 26th OA 6th LMGT2 -65 Laps

84 Ferrari F430 GT - EHRET Pierre/MANSELL Leo/RUSINOV Roman 27th OA 7th LMGT2 -68 Laps

32 Zytek 07S BARAZI Juan/MOSELEY Stuart/BENNETT Phil Zytek 07S 28th OA 4th LMP2 -76 Laps

99 Ferrari F430 GT - Christophe/LEBON Yvan/RODRIGUES Manuel 29th OA 8th LMGT2 - 78 Laps

81 Ferrari F430 GT - DEMPSEY Patrick/FOSTER Joe/KITCH Don Jr 30th OA 9th LMGT2 -81 Laps

66 Aston Martin DBR9 - LICHTNER-HOYER Lukas/MULLER Alex/GRUBER Thomas 31st OA 3rd LMGT1 - 88 Laps

96 Ferrari F430 GT - McINERNEY Michael/McINERNEY Sean/VERGERS Michael 32nd OA 10th LMGT2 -102 Laps

87 Aston Martin Vantage - COCKER Jonny/DRAYSON Paul/FRANCHITTI Marino 33rd OA 11th LMGT2 - 110 Laps

75 Porsche 997 GT3 RSR - O YOUNG Darryl/HESNAULT Philippe/KRALEV P 11th LMGT2 -193 Laps  NC

2 Audi R15 - LUHR Lucas/ROCKENFELLER Mike/WERNER Marco Audi R15 LMP1 dnf Lap 104 NC

5 Porsche RS Spyder - ARA Seiji/KUNIMOTO Keisuke/MAASSEN Sascha Porsche RS Spyder LMP2 dnf Lap 339

6 Ginetta Zytek - MOORE Nigel/DEAN Richard/TOMLINSON Lawrence LMP1 dnf Lap 178

10 Oreca AIM - ORTELLI Stephane/SENNA Bruno/MONTEIRO Tiago LMP1 dnf Lap 219

17 Peugeot 908 Hdi-FAP - BOULLION Jean- Christophe/PAGENAUD Simon/TRELUYER B LMP1 dnf Lap 210

25 Lola Mazda - ERDOS Tommy/NEWTON Mike/DYSON Chris LMP2 dnf Lap 273

26 Radical AER - Bruichladdich Bruneau BRUNEAU Pierre/GREAVES Tim/ROSTAN Marc LMP2 dnf Lap 91

30 Lola Judd  - BIAGI Thomas/BOBBI Matteo/PICCINI Andrea Lola Judd  LMP2 dnf Lap 203

35 Pescarolo Mazda - LAHAYE Matthieu/AJLANI Karim/MOREAU Guillaume LMP2 dnf Lap 208

39 Lola Mazda - Hideki/DE POURTALES Jean/MARSH Matthew LMP2 dnf Lap 261

40 Ginetta Zytek  - AMARAL Miguel/PLA Olivier/SMITH Guy LMP2 dnf Lap 46

41 Zytek - OJJEH Karim/GOSSELIN Claude-Yves/PETER Philipp LMP2 dnf Lap 102

009 Lola Aston Martin - HALL Stuart/KOX Peter/PRIMAT Harold LMP1 dnf Lap 252

64 Corvette C6.R  - GAVIN Olivier/BERETTA Olivier/FASSLER Marcel LMGT1 dnf Lap 311

68 Lamborghini - APICELLA Marco/YOGO A/YAMAGISHI Yutaka LMGT1 dnf Lap 1

70 Porsche 997 GT3 RSR - FELBERMAYER Horst Jr/FELBERMAYER Horst Sr/LECOURT LMGT2 dnf Lap 102

72 Corvette C6.R  - ALPHAND Luc/GREGOIRE S/GOUESLARD Patrice LMGT1 dnf Lap 99

76 Porsche 997 GT3 RSR - PILET Patrick/NARAC Raymond/LONG Patrick LMGT2 dnf Lap 265

77 Porsche 997 GT3 RSR - LIEB Marc/LIETZ Richard/HENZLER Wolf LMGT2 dnf Lap 24

80 Porsche 997 GT3 RSR - NEIMAN Seth/LAW Darren/BERGMEISTER Jorg LMGT2 dnf Lap 194

89 Ferrari F430 GT - SIMONSEN Allan/FARNBACHER Dominik/MONTANARI Christi LMGT2 dnf Lap 183