For Hugues de Chaunac, the 2010 Le Mans 24 Hours was a real rollercoaster ride taking in extremes of emotion, as Oreca's AIM-powered entry took the chequered flag in an entirely unexpected fourth place, but the team's privately-run Peugeot fell agonisingly out of contention for an overall podium less than two hours from the end.
Aboard the strikingly-liveried, #4 908 HDi FAP, Frenchmen Olivier Panis, Nicolas Lapierre and Loïc Duval held second position behind the works-backed #2 Peugeot heading into the early hours of the morning at La Sarthe, but a driveshaft issue subsequently necessitated a 15-minute repair job in the pits – and dropped the car down the order.
That notwithstanding, the home-grown trio had successfully hauled it back up to fourth come the return of daylight, and with Duval at the wheel the car was reeling in the third-placed Audi #7 for the final spot on the podium when – much as happened with two of the factory-run 908s – the engine let go as the reigning Formula Nippon Champion headed towards Arnage.
Whilst contending that Oreca would 'definitely' have overhauled the Audi for third place but for the failure, de Chaunac took heart from his team's performance and efficiency during the race, praised his driver line-up – “We had the perfect mix of an experienced driver and two young drivers,” he reasoned – and hinted at a continued involvement with Peugeot into 2010.
“It was something fantastic and it was looking very good for the end of the race,” he told Crash.net Radio
of the chase, “but ultimately there were still three Audis on the podium and no Peugeots. We were absolutely not expecting three Peugeots all to have the same kind of engine problem; it happened very, very suddenly – Loïc had not been aware of anything wrong. That was very disappointing. We are going to talk now, but very, very probably we will come back with Peugeot.”
On a brighter note for de Chaunac, his other car – crewed by impressive La Sarthe 'rookie' Andy Meyrick and seasoned sportscar hands Soheil Ayari and Didier André – wound up a wholly unanticipated fourth outright, a one-place improvement on twelve months earlier and with it taking the laurels in the petrol battle.
“That was great,” the team boss enthused. “I think it showed at least that Oreca is becoming stronger-and-stronger in long-distance racing. I was definitely not expecting to be inside the top four with all the diesels – I never thought that would have been possible.”