Mikko Jalonen, LMS\ILMC Correspondent
Peugeot Sport wins again! Takes 1-2 at 6 hours of Zhuhai
Last Peugeot vs. Audi battle of the 2011 season ends up with a one-two win for Peugeot while Audi has to settle for third.
Peugeot Sport takes another one-two this season by winning 6 hours of Zhuhai, the event which took place at the Zhuhai International Circuit. After 6 hours of racing and 249 laps, French manufacturer team secured its eight win of the season when the No.7 Peugeot of Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Bourdais crossed the finish line at first followed by the sister entry and No. 8 car of Franck Montagny and Stéphane Sarrazin about 38 seconds later. Third and the last step on the podium went to Peugeot´s well known rival from Germany, Audi Sport. Its No.1 entry driven by Marcel Fässler and Timo Bernhard finished the race a full lap behind the winning Peugeot despite leading the race at the midpoint of the race and leading the race multiple times. Petrol division was won by Rebellion Racing, driven by Neel Jani and Nicolas Prost before OAK Racing Pescarolo and Aston Martin Racing.
Peugeot Sport and its technical director Bruno Famin were obviously very happy about the race result s. “Our rival started very quickly, so we adapted our strategy, especially as regards the choice of tyres. Winning here was the second of Peugeot’s objectives for the season, since the economic stakes are high in China for the brand. We did it in style here, with a one-two finish, an all-Peugeot front row in qualifying and the fastest race lap. This year we have won six of the seven races on the calendar. Every battle with our main rival has been exciting and very intensely fought. Technically, we only had a problem at Petit Le Mans, but we analysed it quickly and responded accordingly. Today’s race completes what has been a great season,” he said.
We’re all very happy with the way the season has gone.
Davidson was also extremely happy to win in China and he said, “It was an interesting race; very close and all about strategy. The car’s handling was perfect. The tyres weren’t working particularly well at the start of the race. We didn’t panic and changed the tyres at the first driver handover. The car worked very well from that point onwards. The hotter it became, the more rubber there was on the track, the better it was for us. We’re all very happy with the way the season has gone. We have shown the Peugeot 908 and Team Peugeot Total to have very good performance levels at all the tracks.”
The win of Peugeot wasn´t that easy through and especially during the early race when it looked like Audi Sport would be the one to win the race in China; the race is considered as very important for the manufacturers due to Chinese markets. Audi started the race well and at the first hour was holding 1-2 before the number 2 Audi of Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen with McNish behind the wheel was forced to pit from the lead for carnage done to its bodywork after a collision with an LM GTE Ferrari. The work was quick through and Audi No.2 returned to the track on the lead lap just to get a hit from behind in the second hour from Rebellion Racing´s number 12 entry. The hit caused a short circuit and irreparable damage to the onboard electronics of the R18 TDI; which later caused them to retire from the race just a few hours later due to an electrical problem.
Audi No.1 had its own problems too while holding the Peugeots behind. First during the second hour of the race, the team lost its 20 second lead to Peugeot in heavy traffic and later during the halfway point of the race, lost the lead for the final time in a slight contact with slower GT car. After the incident, the Peugeots drove away from the single Audi that remained in the race. There also was the strategy and tires that played a big role of the outcome of the race.
After the race Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, the head of Audi Sport was slightly disappointed for third place. He said, "In the first two hours we were absolutely part of the action at the front. Unfortunately, though, we weren’t able to convert the good speed we had into victory at the finale - and that’s no doubt disappointing for everyone in the team. With car number ‘1’ we lost a lot of time at the end of the second double-stint which we weren’t able to recover although afterward we again drove the times of the two leading Peugeot cars pretty consistently. That’s why in the end it was no longer possible to attack. Car number ‘2’ became entangled in a rear-end collision in which it was not at fault and, as a consequence, developed an electrical problem which we weren’t able to repair. That was of course disappointing."
In LMP2 class, Signatech Nissan driven by Franck Mailleux, Lucas Ordonez and Jean Karl Vernay won the class and finished eighth overall while the another LMP2 entry of the race, OAK Racing (Patrice Lafargue, Frederic Da Rocha) was wrestling with various number of problems especially with an engine problem during the race, eventually finishing 16th; 15 laps behind the class winning Signatech Nissan Team. FLM was only having one single entry at the race and despite losing a tyre after a pit stop and also spending a lot of time at the pits, Ptrs Racing and its drivers Zhang Shangi and Wei Liang Chen finished the race in 17th place overall.
In the LM GTE PRO, BMW Motorsport had theoretical changes for the ILMC Manufacturers title but despite taking 1-2 at Zhuhai and putting both cars into top 10 overall with no. 55 car of Jörg Müller and Augusto Farfus taking a win and No.56 BMW finishing second one lap down driven by Andy Priaulx and Uwe Alzen the result wasn´t enough for the title. BMW also won in China last year which was the first win ever of the modern, M 3GTR.
BMW was obviously very happy to the weekend as the team manager Charly Lamm told after the race and he said, “The one-two is a great way to end the season. After our win in 2010, we have once again proven that Zhuhai is a happy stomping ground for the BMW M3 GT. The entire weekend ran smoothly for us. The cars were prepared perfectly and the tyres worked well in the warm conditions. The four drivers also did an outstanding job all weekend. Everything fell into place. That is what allowed us to secure the one-two in style, even though the race was not entirely without its difficulties for us. It was another great success for BMW and the team.”
Third in class was Luxury Racing Ferrari and its No. 59 entry driven by Frédérik Makowiecki and Stéphane Ortelli. Luxury Racing finished 3 laps down behind the winning BMW. Ferrari secured the championship just 7 minutes before the end of the race when the troubled Ferrari F458 Italia of AF Corse and its number 51 entry driven by Giancarlo Fisichella and Gianmaria Bruni was sent back to the race. Before the trouble, AF Corse had been second in race, just few seconds behind the leading BMW.
Despite the LM GTE AM ILMC title already was won earlier by Larbre Competition, every team obviously were very eager to win the last race of the season and after 6 hours of racing, the winning celebrations were made at the Porsche camp when Proton Competition driven by Christian Ried, Gianluca Roda and Richard Lietz took the class honors by winning the LM GTE AM category. Proton Competition, which was the only Porsche at the race, finished the race a full lap ahead of the second finishing Larbre Competition Corvette ZR1 driven by Patrick Bornhauser, Julien Canal and Corvette Racing driver, Olivier Beretta. Third in class was the Krohn Racing Ferrari F430, driven by Nic Jönsson, Tracy Krohn and Michele Rugolo.
At the “Chinese Special“ GTC class, only two entries out of four finished the race, both of them being the Audi R8 LMS´s . The win went to Audi Sport C Racing China driven by Eduardo Mortara, Darryl O´Young and Alexandre Impatori. Audi Sport C Racing China won the class by seven laps ahead of the Audi Race Experience CHN crew driven by Jeffrey Lee, Florian Grüber and Hing Tak Mak. Mercedes AMG squad driven by Mika Häkkinen, Lance David Arnold and Cong Fu Cheng were forced to retire from the race after two hours of racing and 73 laps.
Today's race was not just the final event of the season but also to the name Intercontinental Le Mans Cup. 2012 will see some changes to the idea that the ACO came up with to return to a Le Mans-style world wide championship. With the new partnership formed by the ACO and the FIA, the World Endurance Challenge will take the center stage.