Nicolas Minassian has warned Peugeot's adversaries that the Lion is roaring stronger than ever before now that the monkey has been removed from its back – and as the team bids to make it consecutive triumphs in the iconic Le Mans 24 Hours this summer, he ominously asserts that there is no other sportscar on earth as rapid as the 908 HDi...
Having returned to La Sarthe for the celebrated, legendary round-the-clock classic in 2007, Peugeot immediately demonstrated that it had the fastest car in the field – the only problem was, initially at least, it didn't also have the necessary reliability to accompany its devastating raw speed.
Despite being slower in terms of out-and-out pace, arch-rival Audi was able to prevail in both 2007 and 2008 as in a reminder of the tortoise and the hare parable, durability won out, with the Ingolstadt manufacturer motoring on almost flawlessly to the end as Peugeot's challenge slowly crumbled.
Notwithstanding an early scare that removed the #7 machine – the one Minassian shared with former grand prix aces Christian Klien and Pedro Lamy – from contention as a result of a pit-lane misunderstanding with the privately Pescarolo-run 908, last year the tables were turned, and Peugeot finally claimed the victory that it had been so desperately seeking, and a dominant one at that. There's plenty more where that came from, the Frenchman contends.
“I was a little bit surprised,” he told Crash.net Radio
, when asked if he had been at all underwhelmed by the disappointing pace of Audi's new R15 TDi in 2009. “I was surprised that the gap wasn't closer, because we still had a big advantage – but the 908 is a very special car. In terms of speed, there is nothing that has ever been as quick as this in sportscars. Considering there is now a chicane at Le Mans, the lap time we did two years ago in qualifying was absolutely unbelievable. It really is one of a kind, so to come in and get anywhere near close to this car is going to be difficult – and Peugeot never stop working.
“The 908 is so far ahead of all the others in terms of performance – and it has been so for the last three years. We'll lose some power because of the new regulations to restrict us, but hopefully we can gain some back and Peugeot are doing a little bit of work aerodynamically. I'm sure they're not going to stop where they are and will carry on doing little bits of development; they are always going to improve.
“The car is quite reliable now, too. We have a few issues sometimes, like in the #7 last year – but you never can cover everything. When we do long runs in testing, we do 30-hour tests, not 24-hour tests, and sometimes even longer. At least we know how far we can go with some of the key elements of the car, so when I get in I'm quite comfortable it's going to last a good, long distance.
“What happened last year was terrible and quite tough to take actually, because you work so hard all year and then 40 minutes after the start, bang, you are almost out of the race. I always look at the positives, though, and it was a lesson to learn and hopefully won't happen again. At least I know I'm in a car that can win. The 908 is a mega car – it feels great to drive fast – and for Peugeot, to win was really important. It took a bit of weight off our shoulders, and this year we're going to be there and I think we've got a great chance again.”TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE