11 May 2008
Spa 2008: Peugeot Spa-rkles again.
Peugeot maintained its 100 per cent Le Mans Series record with a third win of the 2008 endurance season at Spa-Francorchamps, setting the French squad up for its assault on the 24 Hours in June.
After Stephane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy claimed the spoils at Monza a fortnight ago, it was the turn of Nicolas Minassian and Marc Gene - along with Le Mans co-driver Jacques Villeneuve - to win at Spa, the two regular drivers drawing themselves level with Audi's Alex Premat and Mike Rockenfeller at the head of the points table as a result.
Once again, it was the 'junior' Audi that provided the closest opposition, but only after the German marque's number one machine had been involved in an incident with the Sarrazin/Lamy Peugeot, which left both cars badly damaged.
The two doomed machines had set the early pace, with Lamy leading Allan McNish by as much as five seconds, but came together during the middle stint of the race, after Peugeot addition Alex Wurz had taken over from Lamy. The Austrian, aiming for Le Mans success after being ousted from Formula One, clipped Ralf Kelleners' Spyker - forcing the German into the barriers - before careering into the Audi, now with Rinaldo Capello at the wheel, approaching Les Combes. Wurz was out on the spot, his car too badly maimed to continue, while the Audi lost a lot of time - and any hope of victory - being repaired in the pits.
"It all happened so quickly," Wurz explained, "I was pulling back in front of the Spyker when the rear right of my car hit it, and that sent me into a spin. I couldn't avoid hitting the Audi and I would like apologise for that, just as I would like to say sorry to everyone at Peugeot whose excellent work had given us a fantastic car."
"I just didn't know what had happened, but it was a big impact," Capello countered, "Then I saw the Peugeot, but I still do not know exactly what occurred."
As a result, the two main contenders were left in a direct head to head with their remaining entries as the #7 Peugeot battled the #2 Audi. In the end, as had been the case at Monza, Peugeot's superior pace told, with the Gene/Minassian/Villeneuve combination eking out more than a minute over their rivals before a late safety car created an artificially close run to the chequered flag.
"I suffered quite badly with oversteer during my first stint, but everything returned to normal once new tyres were fitted and I had a great scrap with McNish," Minassian reported, "I left my braking as late as possible, and he braked even later, and we both end up crossing the grass. It was close, but perfectly fair and square! I spent the rest of the race enjoying the afternoon with my two team-mates."
McNish and Capello made their way back through the pack to finish fourth, albeit four laps adrift, with the Italian securing the position four laps from the flag after passing the Pescarolo of Jean-Christophe Boullion and Emmanuel Collard. The gap to the final podium place, however, was probably out of reach, even without the added delay caused by a stop-go penalty for Capello missing the red light at the pit-lane exit.
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