He is dogged by bad luck, it seems, at Le Mans, for despite having been a lynchpin of Peugeot's driving line-up and a contender for victory in each of the past five editions of the race dubbed the toughest in the world to win, Nicolas Minassian has still to mount the highest step of the rostrum at La Sarthe.
After placing fourth in qualifying in company with team-mates and countrymen Stéphane Sarrazin and Franck Montagny, Minassian's #8 Peugeot was a solid threat and much-of-a-muchness with the two sister 908 TDis until it was hit by a spate of issues once darkness fell on Saturday night.
Losing out under the two safety car periods for good measure, the #8 was looking set for just fourth position until Alex Wurz sent the #7 crashing off the road at Indianapolis with barely five hours left to run, promoting it to third.
“It was a funny race,” Minassian reflected, speaking to Crash.net. “Things just didn't work out very well for us. In my first triple stint, we had a badly-mounted tyre, and it was vibrating so much that I couldn't see in front of me. It was a nightmare. After that, we just didn't make the right choice of tyre when I went out at night – we should have put soft tyres on, but we went for medium.
“We then had a problem with Franck as well with the brake balance – we lost about a minute-and-a-half with that – and we got a stop-and-go because a mechanic forgot to put his [protective] goggles on. It was bits-and-bobs, not much when you look at it because Le Mans has been won many times with more [problems] than that, but this time you had to be perfect – and we weren't perfect.”
Nor, the Frenchman candidly concedes, was the car 'quick enough' – musing that 'we must not have done a good enough job at setting it up for the race; maybe we just didn't think enough or work well enough, and it was never that great' – and even a late-race tyre gamble as the rain began to fall, much as in 2008, failed to turn the tables on Audi. Still, having been distraught at finishing 'only' second at La Sarthe three years ago, Minassian sought to point out that the disappointment was not so acute in 2011 since 'this time it was different'.
“We were already two laps behind and so had very little chance of winning,” the 38-year-old explained of the tyre switch. “Franck chose to put intermediates on just before I got in the car, and I think it was a good choice. When the rain eased off, we decided to change back.
“Thank you to my team-mates who I really enjoyed driving with again, and congratulations to Audi, who did a superb job. For the last four years, our car was always the best car, but this time it wasn't the best car. We were very good and [the gap between the top two] was so little at the end, but they (Audi) were a little bit better. Their car was just that little bit faster. We just need to work on the speed of our car now.”
And, he makes no bones, come back even stronger in 2012 for a twelfth crack at a race that has persistently frustrated him and in which victory has consistently eluded his grasp – a sentiment well understood by Sarrazin, who has now been in with a genuine shout of winning Le Mans four times only to be denied on every occasion.
One clear improvement over 2010, at least, acknowledges the sometime Minardi F1 driver, was that lessons had palpably been learned on the reliability front. Whilst none of the four 908s made it to the chequered flag twelve months ago, they all did this time around – the only element missing was that final smidgen of raw speed.
“Last year's race was very difficult, losing all of the cars,” Sarrazin confessed. “We worked a lot after that, and this year we had hardly any problems. We only had some small issues, but Audi was just stronger than us. Otherwise, it was a super race, and we gave everything on the track. It was a good fight.”