As he prepares to launch a renewed assault on two of sportscar's greatest trophies in 2009 – the iconic Le Mans 24 Hours and the Sebring 12 Hours later this month – Nicolas Minassian has been reflecting on a 2008 campaign during which Peugeot had it all in the palm of their hands...only to throw it all away.
This time twelve months ago, you would have got fairly short odds on the French manufacturer triumphing in at least one of the three major competitions it was entering – Le Mans, Sebring and the Le Mans Series. Indeed, such was the speed advantage of the 908 HDi over its Audi rival that you could quite viably have bet on the Lion walking away with a clean sweep, but at the end of the year it remained empty-handed. It was, Minassian admits, a salutary and sobering lesson.
“To be honest, I'm a little bit disappointed about 2008,” reflected the Crash.net
columnist, “especially for Le Mans. You cannot say you're happy with that. Lots of people have said 'you finished second at Le Mans, that's great', but when you have a car like we did...
“It's so rare to be in a position to win it, and when you are and you miss by so little, it is so frustrating. There are three cars in the team, and last year I was in the car that was fighting to win – that may not happen again this year or the next.
“It was still a great race, though, with a big battle and a massive improvement from the year before. Our reliability was very good; it was just that the opposition was perfect, which doesn't happen very often. I don't know if that's ever happened before, actually, to be so perfect in the race and have no problems. We've got to give credit to Audi, who know the race so well and did everything to perfection.
“We had a few little problems which you normally get away with at Le Mans, but now the race has become such a 24-hour sprint that you cannot even afford to have the slightest of problems. We lost enough time just in cleaning the radiator and changing the rear bonnet – all those little things that you don't want at Le Mans.”
That much is undeniable, and if it was agonising for Peugeot to miss out on victory at La Sarthe having proven to have the fastest car in the field, then defeats at Sebring and – most surprisingly of all, following a scrappy final outing at Silverstone, what should have been the crowning glory – in the Le Mans Series only added insult to injury. The team may have prevailed in four of the five races on the LMS calendar, but it was Audi who ultimately lifted the laurels.
“From the Peugeot view, the Sebring 12 Hours was never a race we were going into to win,” Minassian reasoned. “We knew we were going to have a few issues there, even if the drivers always want to win. The main focus has always been Le Mans, so to not win Sebring or the Le Mans Series wasn't that disappointing to them I don't think.
“For sure you want to win the championship, of course, but the LMS is more of a race-by-race kind of championship than anything else. I was a little bit disappointed with the outcome of that, but at least we won four out of five of the races, which I think proved a lot. To have won a few well-known, 1,000km races is already good, so I'm looking at it like that, rather than at the disappointment of not winning the championship.