Stéphane Sarrazin’s stunning last-minute lap at the end of Wednesday evening’s first practice session was finally sufficient to put the N°8 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP (Lamy/Sarrazin/Bourdais) in pole position for the 2007 Le Mans 24 Hours which starts at 3pm Saturday. Profiting from one of the few slots that permitted the top teams to fight for the fastest qualifying lap, the Frenchman put the new car at the top of the timesheets with a 3m 26.344s, just seconds before the chequered flag came down. Wet conditions throughout Thursday’s session ensured that his efforts were not in vain, while the N°7 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP (Gene/Minassian/Villeneuve) will line up just behind its sister car on the second row of Saturday afternoon’s grid.
Barely six months after the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP car’s maiden track run last January, Team Peugeot Total took another important step forward in its Le Mans 24 Hours bid by securing pole position at first attempt. The closing minutes of Wednesday’s session saw the lead change hands three times in the final quarter of an hour before Sarrazin put the N°8 car in front for good at the stroke of midnight, thanks to a lap that the Frenchman describes as one of the best he has ever produced at Le Mans.
With pole apparently safely in its grasp, and with the N°7 car assured of a second row start thanks to an equally spirited drive from Nicolas Minassian, the team profited from yesterday’s conditions to get in some running in the wet. And given that the team had only previously completed less than half a day’s testing in rain at Paul Ricard in March, this could well prove valuable if the current spell of changeable weather continues during the weekend.
Jacques Villeneuve, Sébastien Bourdais, Marc Gene and Pedro Lamy covered 45 laps between them as they fine-tuned the set-ups of their respective cars in the wet and also sifted through the different wet weather tyre options the team’s partner Michelin has brought to the French circuit.
Michel BARGE (Director, Peugeot Sport): “It is obviously very satisfying to have qualified on pole. Since the green light was given to the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP programme barely 18 months ago, we have taken the successive challenges we have faced one at a time: the car’s first track test in January, our first LMS outings – and wins – at Monza and Valencia, the preliminary practice day here at Le Mans earlier in the month, which saw Sébastien Bourdais post the fastest time, and now this week’s two qualifying sessions. These different hurdles have helped strengthen the bond between everyone in the team but we are all acutely aware that the build-up is one thing and the race another. We have never hidden the fact that our objective is 2008 and that anything we can learn – in all domains – between now and then will be very welcome experience. We have all been extremely focused so far, and that will continue to be the case over the coming days.”
Bruno FAMIN (Technical Director, Peugeot Sport): “Before Wednesday’s session, we had nothing to lose, but that was no longer the case after Stéphane succeeded putting the N°8 car in pole position. In the end, conditions meant we weren’t called upon to defend our position at the front of the grid and we were able to get in some useful work in the wet. Before this week, we had started to build up a good understanding of the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP. The results of the two official practice sessions have shown that we have a competitive package over one lap compared with this race’s recent benchmark. But we are also very aware how crucial reliability promises to be over the coming weekend.”
Stéphane SARRAZIN (N°8 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP): “My fastest lap on Wednesday evening was one of my best ever at Le Mans. The closer to the end of the session we got, the more the track dried out and the more the tension mounted. I gave it everything I had and even took a few risks passing the slower cars because there was a lot of traffic about and the track was still damp in places.”
Jacques VILLENEUVE (N°7 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP): “The combination of driving at night and atrocious weather was very, very difficult. And it was even more complicated with all the traffic about and with some of the slower cars occasionally braking in some strange places. You’ve really got to be on your toes all the time. Part of the circuit uses roads that are open to normal traffic most of the year and there were lots of huge puddles. It was very hairy and aquaplaning was a big problem.”
Le Mans 24 Hours qualifying – final positions:
1, Lamy/Sarrazin/Bourdais (N°8 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP), 3m 26.344s
2, Capello/Kristensen/McNish (Audi R10), +0.572s
3, Gene/Minassian/Villeneuve (N°7 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP), +1.380s
4, Biela/Pirro/Werner (Audi R10), +1.957s
5, Luhr/Rockenfeller/Premat (Audi R10), +3.392s
For more information, please contact Ian on 02476 884216, Kevin on 02476 884215 or Jodie on 02476 884212
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