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Midpoint At Le Mans: Peugeot Leads, Audi Lurks

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 12 2010

At the half way point Le Mans, strategies were beginning to take shape. (Photo courtesy of the American Le Mans Series)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

Le Mans, France – Approaching the halfway mark, the 24 Hours of Le Mans shaped up as a classic match of speed versus endurance.

The faster Peugeot Sport entries suffered two technical failures in the first 10 hours – one permanent – while the slower Audi Sport cars continued to lurk behind the two leading Peugeots.

Peugeot led from the drop of the tri-color drapeau at 3 p.m., and after nine hours the car of Franc Montagny, Stephane Sarrazin and Nicolas Minassian were on top of the leader board in a lap by itself. The  ORECA team’s No. 4 Peugeot, a de facto member of Peugeot Sport, was in second. After Audi’s Allan McNish pressured ORECA’s Nicolas Lapierre in the opening laps, the No. 4 Peugeot had not come under challenge from any of the R15’s.

In fact, the only time an Audi has passed a Peugeot has been due to technical problems for the four-car French legion.

The pole-winning HDi FAP didn’t make it to the end of four hours. Pedro Lamy brought the Peugeot into the pits with a broken suspension that also broke its monocoque. Pole winner Sebastien Bourdais and Simon Pagenaud never even got a lap in the No. 3 chassis.

The No. 1 chassis was leading when its alternator broke, necessitating a 14-minute pit stop to replace it. That dropped it behind the three Audi R15’s, although Marc Gene was gradually clawing his way back to the front by running laps two and three seconds quicker than the German machines on the 8.47-mile circuit in the dark.

In a race full of celebrated rookies, former F1 and CART champion Nigel Mansell failed to make five laps in his Genetta-Zytek 09S before crashing into the barriers on the straight between Mulsanne and the Indianapolis corners. Sons Greg and Leo did not get a chance to race and the Beechdean Mansell team declined any media access to the driver, who did not suffer any apparent injuries, to find out what happened at top speed in his LMP1 machine.

Perhaps the toughest retirement belonged to the Risi Competizione team, looking for a third straight win at the Sarthe circuit in the GT2 class. After being put to the rear of the 55-car field when post-qualifying inspection revealed a problem with its rear wing, the Risi car moved into the class lead by the end of three hours. An extraordinary dice developed with the No. 64 Corvette Racing car that replaced the Risi Ferrari on the pole.

But after nearly five hours of nose-to-tail competition, the Risi Ferrari pulled into the pits with a broken transmission, ending any hopes of extending its streak. That elevated the No. 64 Corvette shared by Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Emmanuel Collard into first and the No. 63 Corvette into second. This is the first race at Le Mans for the Corvette factory team since switching from the GT1 class to GT2.

In its first Le Mans, the defending American Le Mans Series champions Highcroft Racing had a pitched battle for the lead in the LMP2 category from the start with Strakka Racing, also competing under Honda Performance Development power and in an ARX-01c chassis. The Strakka team has more experience with the low downforce Le Mans bodywork, but Highcroft appeared to have a better driving line-up comprised of David Brabham, who won over-all with Peugeot last year, former Audi factory driver Marco Werner and Marino Franchitti, younger brother of this year’s Indy 500 winner Dario.

IndyCar veteran Marco Andretti had a tough baptism in his first Le Mans. His Rebellion Racing team suffered problems in practice and qualifying with its Lola-Rebellion chassis. In the race, cooling problems necessitated a long stop to replenish the cooling fluids. With Andretti behind the wheel at midnight, the LMP1 class entry shared with Nicholas Prost and Neel Jani languished in 25th position over-all.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 12 2010
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