Oreca got to within less than two hours of a dream podium finish in the 2010 Le Mans 24 Hours, only for the Peugeot curse to strike one last time and send the car crewed by popular home-grown trio Nicolas Lapierre, Olivier Panis and Loïc Duval into a bitterly disappointing retirement – but the former insists they have 'no regrets'.
Having matched the three 'works' 908 HDi FAPs during practice and qualifying, Oreca entered the 78th edition of the race dubbed 'the hardest in the world' to win in the frame of mind that anything was possible, and after rebuffing an early Audi challenge from a feisty Allan McNish and following retirement for the #3 Peugeot and a hefty delay for the #1 car, the brightly-liveried #4 machine held second place heading into night.
However, a driveshaft issue in the early hours cost 15 minutes of unplanned pit-stop repair work, and dropped the Oreca entry down the order. A stirring fightback ensued, with Lapierre and Duval in particular putting in some scintillating lap times – the latter indeed setting fastest lap of the race – as they chased down the #7 Audi that was occupying the final spot on the podium.
And then, with their quarry practically within sight and barely an hour-and-a-half remaining, the 908's engine cruelly expired just before Arnage with Duval at the wheel. It was, Lapierre acknowledged in an interview with Crash.net Radio
, a crushing blow so close to the end – but now he has already turned his attentions towards the forthcoming Le Mans Series meetings at Portimão and Silverstone, and towards what he hopes will be revenge at Le Mans itself in twelve months' time.
“It was very disappointing,” conceded the 26-year-old Frenchman, who on his debut at La Sarthe three years ago was awarded the prestigious Jean Rondeau prize for the best performance by a rookie. “We had a very strong race until an hour-and-a-half from the end, so [to have to retire] was very difficult for us. Obviously, reliability was an issue on the Peugeot this year. We had the speed, for sure, but we couldn't do the full 24 hours without a problem.
“[The driver line-up] was a very good choice by [Oreca boss] Hugues de Chaunac. Loïc had a superb weekend and Olivier has the experience to manage everybody, so it was a very good line-up and there was a very good atmosphere in the team. That was one of our main strengths – and our pace was encouraging for the team and for the drivers, for everybody, as right from the beginning of the week we were around the Peugeots and the Audis.
“[Towards the end of the race] we had nothing to lose. We were fourth and we wanted third place; it was looking good, because we were coming back at the #7 Audi very quickly, but we don't have any regrets. The Peugeot is a really good car, but we have to work on the reliability now. It's always a disappointment when you just miss out on the podium, but we will come back next year and have another chance.”