Team Peugeot Total secured its first victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours with the diesel-powered 908 HDi FAP, which contested the French endurance classic for the first time in 2007. This result also takes Peugeot's Le Mans score to three wins following its previous triumphs in 1992 and 1993.
The Peugeot squad monopolized the top-two places in this year's contest. And, with the exception of a brief moment early in the race on Saturday afternoon, it led from flag to flag; initially with the N8 car of Sarrazin/Montagny/Bourdais, then with the N9 car (Gen/Wurz/Brabham). The latter inherited top spot just ahead of the five-hour mark and went on to defend its advantage until the finish. The N7 car (Minassian/Lamy/Klien) rounded off Peugeot's weekend by completing this year's thrilling Le Mans clash in sixth spot after collecting a series of minor setbacks during the night.
Peugeot Sport Director, Olivier Quesnel: "Before the start, I used a French cycling analogy to describe the crew of the N8 car as 'sprinters', the N7 crew as 'road sprinters' and the N9 drivers as 'warriors'. Today, it was the 'warriors' who won. I really sensed the public and Automobiles Peugeot wanted this result. We faced a huge challenge and succeeded in rising to it. We arrived as challengers, and our mission was to try to topple the favorites. And that is exactly what we did, essentially by steering clear of the different pitfalls in our path. It turned out to be a terrific race, and Peugeot Sport is a truly magnificent team. I am so proud of all the people involved in this project."
The N9 Peugeot's international line-up of Spaniard Marc Gen, Australia's David Brabham and Austrian Alexander Wurz owed its victory to a trouble-free run which saw them take over at the top when the other two 908 HDi FAPs were delayed during the first quarter of the race. After that, the experienced trio focused on driving as quickly and as consistently as possible in order to push home their advantage and force their rivals to do all the chasing. "It's a great feeling to have won," beamed David Brabham for whom victory comes at his 16th attempt and whose brother Geoff formed part of Peugeot's winning trio back in 1993. "Peugeot Sport did a tremendous job. It's a great team, they gave us a 100% reliable car and the three of us drove a faultless race."
Alexander Wurz, the youngest driver ever to win the endurance classic in 1996, notched up his second success in La Sarthe: "What made the difference? The fact we kept it on the track without picking up any damage. We also had a great team behind us, and a phenomenal car. It's a fantastic feeling to have won in France in a French car."
"To have won a race this big is the best thing that has ever happened to me," concluded Marc Gen. "I've never experienced anything like it. It really is a very emotional moment for me."
The early pace was set by the all-French crew sharing the N8 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP, thanks initially to an assertive, quadruple opening stint from Franck Montagny. He powered away from pole position, spending three hours building a handsome cushion at the hottest moment of the race on Saturday afternoon (28C). The Frenchman's efforts were then reinforced by teammate and pole-winner Stphane Sarrazin.
Soon afterwards, however, the N8 car lost the ground that would later cost it first place - and victory - when Sbastien Bourdais, the third man in the car, pitted with a broken brake bell. That cost the trio almost 10 minutes in repairs. The Le Mans-born driver then collided with a back-marker, damaging the front of his 908, and the time required to replace the front of the body cost a further lap. "It's a great day for Peugeot," underlined Sbastien Bourdais. "They worked so hard for this success and really deserve it. I have a personal challenge, which is to one day win what is my home race. It was a close-run thing this year, but I will be back until I succeed!"
The third Team Peugeot Total car (N7) suffered a knock-out blow after just 11 laps when it was hit by another competitor (in another Peugeot 908) as it was leaving the pits after its first stop. Once the disappointment of falling to 51st place had been digested, Portugal's Pedro Lamy, Frenchman Nicolas Minassian and Austria's Christian Klien responded by providing assistance to their team-mates, evaluating and validating a number of solutions which were aimed at fine-tuning the front-runners' respective strategies.
Despite a cascade of minor troubles during the early hours of the morning, their consistency and determination were rewarded with a plucky sixth place at the flag.
With victory going to the N9 car and pole-position to the N8 machine, everyone went away with something to show for their efforts, since Nicolas Minassian in N7 succeeded in posting the fastest race lap of the weekend: a 3m 24.352s, which works out at an average speed of 240.097kph round the world-famous 13.629km circuit.
Pedro Lamy summed up the feelings of his two team-mates when he observed: "When I was hit by the other car in the pit-lane, I really couldn't believe it. It was really tough to see our chancs of winning evaporate barely 40 minutes into the race. But that's racing, and I have to accept it."
Bruno Famin (Technical Director, Peugeot Sport): "We didn't have any technical problems this weekend; just a few racing incidents which upset certain game plans. The Peugeot 908 HDi FAP demonstrated its reliability by winning against Aud,i which has been an invincible force for practically a decade. This is the result of not just one, but four years' hard effort."
1, Gen/Wurz/Brabham Peugeot 908 HDi FAP N9 382 laps (5206km)
2, Sarrazin/Montagny/Bourdais Peugeot 908 HDi FAP N8 +1 lap
3, Capello/Kristensen/McNish Audi N1 +6 laps
4, Charouz/Enge/Mucke Lola Aston Martin N007 +9 laps
5, Panis/Lapierre/Ayari Oreca N11 +13 laps
6, Minassian/Lamy/Klien Peugeot 908 HDi FAP N7 +13 laps