Having come within a mere 14 seconds of triumphing in the race dubbed the toughest in the world to conquer, Simon Pagenaud has reflected that the 2011 Le Mans 24 Hours earlier this month was 'such a sprint' and a genuine 'battle of the titans' between arch-rivals Audi and Peugeot.
After two of the three Audi R18s had crashed out of the action in spectacular style earlier on, and the two sister 908s had run into troubles of their own, it was the #9 Peugeot piloted by Pagenaud and team-mates Sébastien Bourdais and Pedro Lamy that was left to carry the torch for the French manufacturer and take the fight to its pace-setting German adversary.
In something of a rarity at La Sarthe, the 79th edition of the round-the-clock classic witnessed a number of wheel-to-wheel, no holds-barred on-track duels between Audi and Peugeot, but ultimately, the former just had the edge in terms of outright pace, and give chase as valiantly as he did in the final stint, Pagenaud was always facing an uphill battle to turn the tables. So close yet, tantalisingly, so far.
“It was a fantastic race,” the Frenchman told Crash.net
of his first finish in four attempts. “Le Mans is such a legend, and finishing just 13 seconds behind the leader was quite exciting – but Audi was stronger than us this time. I'm very happy that we were there at the end fighting for the lead and it was an enjoyable 24 hours – but bloody hell, that was such a sprint race!
“The two cars are very close – there were only a few tenths of a second between us [in terms of lap time] during the race. We had a slight advantage on fuel economy, but [Audi] had a little bit more power, I think. We knew it would be tight, but we didn't imagine it would be as tight as it was. It was a battle of the titans!
“The final stint was maximum attack! I had no other choice – they were yelling on the radio to push as much as I could, and I was doing that. I like chasing, but I would prefer to be the hunted towards the end of a race. When we had some rain, it really helped me because I was able to find my way easily on the track, and I think André [Lotterer – in the race-leading Audi] was probably a little bit tense because of the situation. That helped me out – I just wish there had been more rain! That's racing, though, and at the end the stronger car won.”
Conceding that reliability and getting all three cars to the finish – after the disaster that had befallen the home favourites twelve months earlier – had been 'the main priority', the reigning American Le Mans Series Champion praised his team for 'a good achievement' on that front in accomplishing something 'that's never easy to do at Le Mans'. Vowing to return again next year in a bid to go one spot better, he summarised that Peugeot had every reason to be proud of its efforts.
“Congratulations to Audi – they were just a little bit more competitive than us over a clean lap – and to Peugeot, too, for getting three cars to the finish, four with the Oreca,” he underlined. “That showed the car had reliability; we were just missing that last little bit of speed, but honestly, to finish second, 13 seconds off the win, we can only be satisfied. I think everyone can take satisfaction from the result – both constructors were exceptional.”
Those sentiments were echoed by countryman and local hero Bourdais, who has now finished as runner-up at Le Mans on three occasions. If he is becoming tired of being the eternal bridesmaid, the former Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 star does not betray it.