The Saulnier Racing team secured a podium finish in the 76th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours as it helped driver Frankie Cheng celebrate becoming the first Chinese driver to take part in the race.

Cheng, who competes in both A1GP and the F3 Euroseries, was part of a young line-up in the #35 Pescarolo Judd alongside Mathieu Lahaye and Pierre Ragues and they enjoyed an almost trouble-free run in the LMP2 class while a number of rivals suffered from the kinds of problems that seem to dog the 'junior' prototype class each year at La Sarthe.

The only issue for the trio came in the final hours of the race with Lahaye at the wheel, when he suffered a spin coming out of the Dunlop Curve after a faulty valve caused a tyre to deflate.

That in itself wouldn't have caused much of a problem for the team, but as Lahaye spun, he collected the GT2 Farnbacher Racing Ferrari 430, which left the Pescarolo nursing heavy rear damage. Having returned to the pits, the mechanics - helped by part of the Saulnier LMP1 entry - replaced the rear wing, left rear axle, extractor, left rear suspension and engine cover in just half an hour, ensuring the car returned to the track ahead of the fourth placed Quifel-ASM Lola to secure its place on the podium.

"I thought I'd made a mistake and felt absolutely terrible," Lahaye admitted. "When the team told me later that they'd found the faulty valve, I was so relieved. To be on the podium here is the best feeling I have ever had and I still can't believe it. It's extraordinary."

Team-mate Cheng was also thrilled with the result as he took his place in Le Mans history.

"I'm so proud for my country," he said. "I'm thrilled to have played my part for this team and my two team mates, as they are both excellent drivers and I didn't want to let them down. We've become great friends and I'm sure we'll stay in touch on Facebook!

"This is such a hard race even more than I ever imagined. It's not so much the physical effort but a mental one and that makes it very, very tiring."

Despite some solid performances in the Le Mans Series this season, the Saulnier team wasn't amongst the more fancied runners in the LMP2 class, going up against the likes of double winners RML and other Lola runners including the impressive Speedy Sebah closed coupe, leaving team manager Fran?ois Sicard a happy man as he proudly watched his youngsters take to the podium at the finish.

"All of the guys in the team and all three drivers fully deserve this podium because we've narrowly missed out twice in the Le Mans Series this season," he said. "I am hugely impressed by the mature performance of the drivers.

"They are all young men who have graduated from single-seaters, yet they have changed their mindsets to endurance racing seamlessly."

The Saulnier LMP1 Pescarolo of Jacques Nicolet, Richard Hein and Marc Faggionato took twelfth place in class having lost time replacing a rear axle and also after an accident at Tetre Rouge which led to a lengthy pitstop for repairs.

 

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