14 June 2008
Le Mans 24 Hrs 2008: Hours 1-3.
Audi leads the Le Mans 24 Hours at the three hour mark after a dramatic start to the 76th edition of the race that saw main rivals Peugeot run into problems at La Sarthe.
A quadruple stint from Allan McNish allowed the #2 car to head the pack as the clock hit 6pm in France but only following issues that delayed all three of the Peugeots which had led the opening hours.
Indeed in the early laps, the three Peugeots were able to pull away at the front, despite McNish briefly getting ahead of the #7 car of Nicolas Minassian off the line, although the Frenchman was able to quickly retake the position from the Audi. Out front, Pedro Lamy held the lead ahead of Frank Montagny through the early laps with the pair pulling away from Minassian in third, who in turn was comfortably pulling away from McNish.
McNish himself was easily the quickest of the Audis and was pulling ahead of both Lucas Luhr and Frank Biela in the sister R10s, Biela having battled ahead of the Charouz Lola Aston Martin after the first two laps of the race.
With the pace out front being in the low 3m 20s marker, it didn't take long for the leaders to get into traffic and by the end of lap four, the Peugeots were amongst the GT2 runners which saw the gap between the top-two yo-yo up to five seconds.
The Peugeots were the first cars to pit, coming in a lap ahead of the first of the Audis, but following the pit stops it remained the same amongst the top six, although further back there was a chance amongst the petrol runners as the Pescarolo of Jean-Christophe Boullion emerged from the pitstops having got ahead of the Dome, the #5 Courage-Oreca and the Lola Aston, which had slipped down to tenth place.
The Lola Aston soon started to make its way back up the order but hit problems in the second hour when Jan Charouz went off going into the Dunlop Curve and severely damaged the car, although he managed to finally bring the car back to the pits where the car underwent lengthy repairs before rejoining the race way down the order.
While Peugeot elected to change drivers during the second hour, with Stephane Sarrazin, Christian Klien and Jacques Villeneuve stepping into the top three cars, McNish continued in the Audi and was able to stay in touch before the Peugeots then hit problems in the third hour of the race.
Firstly, Sarrazin brought the lead car in to change over to Alex Wurz only for a gearbox issue to force the team to take the car back into the garage where it would lose over 20 minutes undergoing repairs and drop outside the top 20, while Villeneuve then pitted early in the #7 with a puncture. Capping a tough 20 minutes for the team, the #9 was then black-flagged due to a broken headlight and then had a drive-through penalty a lap later which handed the lead to the #2 Audi – which McNish finally handed over to Dindo Capello late in the third hour.
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