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Audi R18 Beats Peugeot At Le Mans Test Day

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 24 2011

Tom Kristensen and his Audi team showed big speed during testing at Le Mans over the weekend. (Photo courtesy of Martyn Passe, Audi Sport)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

In the first head-to-head meeting of Peugeot’s 908 and Audi’s R18, the Audis were consistently faster during the test day at the Le Mans 24-hour circuit. Tom Kristensen was quickest over-all with a lap of 3:27.687. Stephane Sarrazin posted the best time for Peugeot Sport Total and third quickest over-all with a lap of 3:27.876.

The times around the 13.6-kilometer course of combined permanent racing circuit and public roads were slower than the pole-winning time of 3:19.711 posted last year by Sebastien Bourdais in a Peugeot 908 HDi FAP due to smaller engines mandated for the new generation of LMP class prototypes and aerodynamic restrictions. Despite a brief interlude of rain, relatively cool and clear conditions prevailed.

Audi Sport has been extensively testing its new Le Mans challenger, including stops at the Homestead-Miami track’s road course and the Sebring track after this year’s 12-hour event. Peugeot has more racing experience after entering a brace of its new 908’s at Sebring. But unless the French team was uncharacteristically trying to keep some speed in reserve, the Audi is farther along in its development. Other than Sarrazin, who recorded his fastest lap in the waning moments of the test in the late afternoon, the remainder of the ten fastest laps set during the Easter Sunday test belonged to the Audi drivers.

Kristensen drove the No. 3 car entered under the Audi Sport North America banner. “It was a new car and my first time in a closed cockpit for a while. We had a very good day and it’s good to be out at Le Mans,” said Kristensen, an eight-time winner at great French enduro, seven coming under Audi power, including one with a Bentley Speed 8. “We were running the program but still had good lap times. It’s my first time in a coupe since Bentley. The visability is not too bad and I like the six-speed gearbox. The car is very good and the grip got better.”

“It’s hard to say if we could go quicker, we had some very good laps,” said Mike

Michael Waltrip participates in the Le Mans Test Days, which were held at the historic circuit in France over the weekend. (Photo courtesy of Michael Waltrip Racing)

Rockenfeller, who clocked the second quickest lap (3:27.816) for the Audi Sport Joest team in the No. 1 car. “The program came together well and we collected all the data we wanted and now we’ll analyse the results”

The Peugeot test went according to schedule, said its quickest driver. “We followed the plan,” said Sarrazin, who added the French team concentrated on gathering data much like its rival. “Our times improved each time we ran. It’s a good car.  We will also go and analyse the results.”

Peugeot Sport suffered a setback in winter testing when Nicolas Minassian’s 908 flipped on the Mistral straight at the Paul Ricard circuit, a problem believed to have been caused by wind gusts and possibly suspension issues. Peugeot may have been overly cautious to avoid any further problems before turning Sarrazin loose for his hot lap.

The new generation LMP1’s carry a “shark fin” to help prevent lift-off, which apparently did not help during Peugeot’s Ricard test. Only one new LMP1, the No. 2 Audi of Marcel Fassler, left the circuit due to a spin. Fassler went into the gravel at the Mulsanne and said things happened so quickly he could not provide details about the influence of the new fin.

Of the 17 LMP1 cars entered for the Le Mans 24-hour on June 11-12, the only team not paricipating in the test day was Patron Highcroft Racing and the new HPD ARX-01e. The Honda-backed team has not raced since finishing second at the Sebring 12-hour, held eight days after the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan.

Two of the new Aston Martin-One designs arrived at the test, but achieved only 12 laps. The No. 009 car suffered engine failure to its inline six turbo after just two laps. The No. 007 entry was sidelined early by turbo wastegate issues. No spares of the new engine configuration were brought by the Prodrive team to the test.

The two LMP1 hybrids fared not much better. The No. 09 Zytek 09H of MIK Corse recorded only five laps — without its electronic engine or battery in place. The  Oreca Swiss Hy-Tech entry of Hope Racing managed 22 laps in the second of the two four-hour sessions, but was slower than some of the LMP2 entries.

Among American teams present, the Level 5 Motorsports Lola-Honda entry driven by Christophe Bouchut (3:48.174) was sixth quickest among the LMP2 cars. Fastest was the Signatech team’s Oreca 03-Nissan driven by Franck Mailleux (3:42.992). Unlike the Michelin-shod front runners in LMP1, the Signatech entry rode on Dunlop tires.

The battle among the GTE Pro class was tight as expected, with the new Ferrari F458

Leh Keen is quickly gaining a fast reputation in the Grand-Am Series.

Italia turning in a strong showing and tires also making a difference. Australian Allen Simonsen (3:59.966) was the only driver to break the four-minute mark on board the Hankook-Team Farnbacher Ferrari, where American Leh Keen is one of the co-drivers for the team running on Korean-built rubber.

Ferrari teams set three of the four quickest times in the class, including a lap of 4:00.570 by Giancarlo Fisichella for AF Corse on Michelins.  Dunlop-shod BMW Motorsports’ M3 GT clocked 4:01.631. The fastest Porsche belonged to IMSA Performance Matmut, where Patrick Pilet turned 4:02.087.

American driver Michael Waltrip was among those getting his initial experience at Le Mans in preparation for the 24-hour on board one of the AF Corse Ferrari entries. While getting in his mandatory 10 laps for a rookie in order to race in the 24-hour, Waltrip’s best lap was 4:17.770.

Instead of shipping one of its own C6.R’s to the test, Corvette Racing borrowed from Labre Competition one of the factory C6.R’s used in the French race last year. Entered as a GTE-Amateur car, the Labre Corvette was quickest among those entered with gentlemen drivers, although all four of Corvette Racing’s regular pros split the time behind the wheel.

In its debut at Le Mans, Robertson Racing’s No. 69 Ford GT clocked 4:07.019 with Americans David Murry, Anthony Lazzarro and Colin Braun sharing time.

Many of the same cars at the test will compete in the 1,000-kilometer race at Spa on May 7, round two of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, before returning to the French circuit in June. The test day was the first in three years and the first held in April since 2004. The organizers chose to have an advance test to allow teams more development times with their new cars — although the Spa race will be held May 7, leaving little development time in advance of the return to Le Mans.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 24 2011
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