14 June 2009
Le Mans 24 Hours 2009: Hours 10-12.
Peugeot is halfway to achieving its aim of returning to the top step of the podium at Le Mans as the #9 908 HDi-FAP reached the twelve-hour mark of the 2009 race still leading the field.
After a dramatic opening nine hours for the two leading squads, the run to half-distance proved to be less so, with the #9 continuing to lead the #1 Audi and #8 sister Peugeot - as had been the case three hours previously. Indeed, the only difference between the top three was a much reduced gap between second and third, although the respective pit-stop schedules will have had a part to play in the figures.
Having seen members of their various entourages severely delayed - or, in Audi's case, retired - by incidents, the three hours passed without incident. David Brabham and Alex Wurz shared the brunt of the track time in the leading Peugeot, although the Australian denied that the car was running to the absolute limit of the car's potential for fear of wearing it out ahead of the run to the finish. In hot pursuit, Allan McNish sliced into the gap between first and second, but was unable to catch the Peugeot despite the Audi's pace improving in the cooler night conditions.
Reduced to a one-car assault on victory - with the remaining sister car still mired outside the top 40 - Audi had reason to fear for its second spot with the recovering #8 Peugeot getting to within 13secs by the end of the twelfth hour, after Stephane Sarrazin, Franck Montagny and Sebastien Bourdais maintained the pressure.
Fourth, fifth and sixth places also remained unchanged, with the Pescarolo Peugeot still running around a couple of laps adrift of the works cars. Again, the #17 enjoyed a trouble-free run that saw the gap to the front maintained and the fifth-placed Aston Martin Racing Lola dropped a little further back, now listed two laps shy of the fourth diesel entry.
The Prodrive-run AMR cars were the ones making a lot of the headlines in hours ten to twelve, with the leading #007 stationary for longer than usual while the mechanics pored over the engine and the left-hand louvres. The delay was minimal, however, in comparison with its sister entries, with the #008 receiving a massive four-minute stop-go penalty after race stewards belatedly pointed the finger of blame in its direction.
Although not the man to blame, Jos Verstappen had to bring the car back into the pits and sit for the duration of the punishment - equivalent to a lap of the La Sarthe circuit - after investigations showed that the #008 car was to blame for pushing the #72 Luc Alphand Aventures Corvette C6R into the tyre wall at Tertre Rouge. At the time of the accident, Darren Turner was driving the #008, with Patrice Goueslard in the #72 Corvette and lucky to avoid injury in the shunt.
Underlining the apparent inconsistency of the stewards, however, Turner remains eligible to race to the end of the 24 Hours, unlike #009 team-mate Stuart Hall, who was excluded from the remainder of the meeting for his part in the accident that befell the #26 Bruichladdich Bruneau Radical in hour six. The third of the AMR entries continues to attract the bulk of the team's misfortune, culminating in it stopping on track with a suspected engine problem while running in 26th position. Harold Primat spent ten minutes working on the car before returning to the pits for a transponder change and to treatment for an engine overheating problem.
While the Kolles team clung to sixth spot courtesy of the impressive Andre Lotterer and Christian Bakkerud, the third works Peugeot gained another four places, moving up to seventh as Simon Pagenaud and, with some of the fastest laps of the race, Christian Klien hauled it back into contention for a podium. Six laps currently separate it from the lead, with Pescarolo just four tours ahead in fourth spot.
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