To win the 2011 Intercontinental Le Mans Cup championship title, Peugeot only needed to score 13 points this weekend at Petit Le Mans. However, the heavy traffic at Road Atlanta, with 53 cars starting the race, can play an important role. As a result, the race featured no fewer than ten safety car periods but Franck Montagny, Stephane Sarrazin and Alexander Wurz made it to the end in their Peugeot 908 HDi FAP. They won by a comfortable five lap margin from Team Oreca's Peugeot 908 driven by Marc Gene, Nicolas Minassian and Nicolas Lapierre.
This one-two finish was Peugeot's third at Road Atlanta and rounds out a successful season with five race wins (Sebring, Spa-Francorchamps, Imola, Silverstone and Road Atlanta) including three one-two finishes (Spa-Francorchamps, Imola and Road Atlanta) and four pole positions (Sebring, Imola, Silverstone and Road Atlanta). And not forgetting the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th places at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Peugeot will head for the season finale in China with the intention of adding another line to its 2011 track record. Third on the starting grid, Peugeot 908 #8 had an incident-packed start to the race, as explained by Franck Montagny: "We picked up a one-minute penalty at the start for a pit lane speed limit violtion so had to push hard to close the gap but not make any mistakes."
The Peugeot #8 grabbed the lead at 3.12pm and, despite prolonged battles with its rivals, the car won by five laps. Yet the outcome was never truly certain until the end, and the race took a dramatic twist with just over 100 laps to go when the Audi #1 retired after colliding with a backmarker.
With a three-lap lead over the second-placed car, the end of the race was more certain for Montagny, Sarrazin and Wurz and went on to win. "We are really happy", enthused Stephane Sarrazin. "It's our first win this season for Franck and I, whereas Alex Wurz won at Spa. As this is the first time the three of us have teamed up it's a perfect result."
The Peugeot 908 #7, driven by polesitter Sebastien Bourdais, was less fortunate. The car was forced to retire after only two hours following a broken bevel gear. This deprived Simon Pagenaud and pole-position driver, Anthony Davidson, of any track time. It was also the first time a Peugeot 908 had to retire this season.
For Audi, the 1000-mile "Petit Le Mans" race was extremely disappointing. In the battle for the lead, Romain Dumas in the Audi R18 TDI #1 became entangled in an accident that forced him to retire on lap 297.
After several collisions, Audi Sport Team Joest decided to take the second Audi R18 TDI out of the race early for safety reasons.
For seven hours, Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Marcel Fassler in the Audi R18 TDI #1 fought some thrilling battles. In fact, it took Fassler only eight laps to overtake the pole-sitting Peugeot.
The trio acted cautiously in the heavy traffic to avoid body contact and were able to open an advantage of one lap over their immediate rivals. However, this advantage was lost when debris from another car clogged one of the radiator ducts, requiring an unscheduled pit stop. A 20sec stop-and-go penalty for pit lane speeding cost additional time.
Bernhard/Dumas/Fassler stayed on the lead lap and managed to close the gap to the leading Peugeot again until Dumas was able to launch his first attack against Franck Montagny in the seventh hour. The maneuver resulted in slight body contact in the final chicane and the Audi driver lost five seconds.
A few laps later, Dumas again caught the Peugeot. But when the Peugeot touched a GT vehicle, Dumas pulled alongside Montagny on the straight but claims to have been squeezed out by the Peugeot driver. While trying to avoid a collision with the Peugeot, Dumas brushed another GT vehicle and hit the wall heavily.
That was a disappointing end to the race for car #1, while the sister car - #2 - lost all hope of victory at the start of the race. Tom Kristensen had body contact with two slower cars at the beginning. The first led to a puncture and a damaged hood. Later on, Allan McNish was hit in the rear by a GT vehicle.
In addition to suspension and body parts, the clutch had to be swapped, causing car #2 to lose more than an hour and drop to a hopeless position.
After the various contacts and with steering problems, Audi Sport Team Joest decided to retired the Capello/Kristensen/McNish car after 302 laps for safety reasons.
Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, Head of Audi Motorsport, said: "I'm very disappointed. We were battling for victory for seven hours and were leading several times. Our best car and the best Peugeot were always separated by a few seconds. Unfortunately, Romain Dumas was barged off by the leading Peugeot while he was trying to overtake it. This resulted in contact with a GT car that had to be lapped and an accident leading to retirement. This was an extreme shame because we had the performance to win this race. I think it wasn't necessary to fend off Romain's attack in such a brutal way - that's not the way to act in endurance racing, especially at such high speeds.
"The second car became entangled in several minor collisions early on and was out of contention for victory after a longer repair despite driving the times of the front runners.
"We congratulate Peugeot on their victory and the ILMC title. Nevertheless, there is an aftertaste today which is not so pleasant."
Final standings for Road Atlanta - Petit Le Mans 2011:
1. Peugeot 908 no.8; S. Sarrazin - F. Montagny - A. Wurz; 394 laps in 20:38'31
2. Peugeot 908 HDi FAP (Oreca) no.10; N. Lapierre - N. Minassian - M. Gene; + 5 laps
3. Aston Martin no.007; A. Fernandez - S. Mucke - H. Primat; + 6 laps
4. Oak Pescarolo no.24; JF. Yvan - O.Pla - A. Premat; + 10 laps
5. Rebellion Lola no.12; N. Prost - N. Jani - A. Belicchi; +13 laps
Intercontinental Le Mans Cup standings:
|Peugeot, 182 points||Team Peugeot Total, 97 points|
|Audi, 108 points||Audi Sport Team Joest, 74 points|