In a warning shot to arch-rivals Audi ahead of the 78th edition of the legendary round-the-clock Le Mans 24 Hours this weekend, the man who stile pole position – Peugeot star Sébastian Bourdais – has revealed that he was on-course for an 'even quicker lap' right at the end of Thursday night's final qualifying session until he was forced to abandon it due to a lack of fuel.
When the La Sarthe classic revs into life on Saturday at 3pm local time, the #3 car Bourdais shares with fellow ex-F1 ace Pedro Lamy and Simon Pagenaud will lead a trio of 908 HDi FAPs away from the line, with the two sister 'works' Peugeots having annexed second and third spots on the grid and the separately-run Oreca entry fourth.
Whilst Audi closed the gap substantially from what had been the best part of five seconds 24 hours earlier to just over two seconds adrift, still the Lion held the upper hand, and as he dismissed notions that the R15 Plus TDi has a handy advantage in the wet, Bourdais – who hails from Le Mans himself – remains confident Peugeot has pace in-hand for the race should it be required to call upon it.
“It's a great result for the whole team,” the former record-breaking multiple Champ Car king enthused, speaking to Crash.net
. “It's a group effort – we divided the workload between all the cars – and we had a lot of things to do, despite having a car that is quite proven around here.
“We're very happy with the outcome of the whole thing – we not only put the four cars in the first four positions, but we also did everything we wanted to do set-up wise, and it's obviously even more special for me being the local boy, for sure. I had the honour to qualify the car, but it could have been any of us. You can't take it too personally, because as I said it's a group effort, and I think [the closeness of the lap times between the four Peugeots] proves that the quality of the driver line-up is quite impressive.
“I think [Audi] will always be a little more agile in [wet or drying] conditions, because their car has some characteristics that ours with the big engine probably doesn't, but as far as the beginning of the session goes, it's just that they were on inters and we were trying to evaluate the wet tyres but they weren't any good for those conditions. Allan [McNish] got the perfect lap, too – he had absolutely no traffic and I think that was about as good as it was going to get really. He not only didn't get blocked by traffic, but I think he even got a tow from it! That's not something that happens too often.
“It would have been possible [to beat Wednesday's pole time] given a completely clear lap, but [Peugeot's Thursday pace] was even more surprising because we didn't have new tyres on the car – actually we had 16 laps on them, which also proves that the Michelins are extremely consistent. On my last lap we were going to run out of fuel – it was the end of the stint, so it was time to pit – but for sure it would have been an even quicker lap. That means the car is easy to drive consistently, and you don't have to force the issue to produce the lap time – and that's a really good sign.
“We did everything that we had to do, but now the big challenge is ahead of us. I think we still had about two or two-and-a-half seconds on [Audi], and if that proves right in the race it will be easily enough. Will it be the same situation on Saturday when the green flag drops, though? I'd be surprised. It's always fun obviously to be the one who puts the car on top, but like we say in France, we've got the cherry – now we'd like the cake.”