Peugeot win stop/start race at Spa

Billed as the first showdown of the year between Audi and Peugeot, and as a full practice for the Le Mans 24 hours by most competitors, the Le Mans Series race at Spa turned out to be more of a farce than a race at times.

Even before the race had properly begun, the Audi R15 TDI driven by Andre Lotterer had spun-off on the warm-up lap and hit the wall at Les Combes; An inauspicious start.

With rain beginning to fall on parts of the track the race began as the safety car pulled in, but at the first corner the number 3 Peugeot overshot and found itself a long way back in the 50 car field. This event was swiftly eclipsed when the Racing Box Lola crashed at Eau Rouge resulting in damage to the car and debris on the track. The safety car returned.

By lap 4 everyone was racing again, however an over ambitious move from one of the Rebellion Lolas sent Olivier Panis in the Oreca Peugeot spinning in to the wall, effectively ending their race.

The much hyped Audi – Peugeot battle began to warm up around 10 laps in with McNish taking the number 7 Audi ahead of the number 3 Peugeot at Eau Rouge, but the safety car returned again after a collision between the Ginetta-Zytek of Bruichladdich and JMW Aston Martin Vantage resulting in the former hitting a wall near Bus Stop.

2 hours in to the race, just when the teams were settling in to their pit stop routines a power cut hit the whole circuit after a lightning strike nearby. After 30 minutes running on the reserve battery, that also failed leaving the paddock & pit lane in darkness and the timing systems blank. As a result the race was temporarily stopped.

After 45 minutes of confusion and much running about by the race organisers the power returned and approaching half-way in the now 6 hours race Audi was at the head of the field closely pursued by two Peugeots.

The next car forced to retire was one of the Rebellion Racing’s Lolas. An overheating gearbox causing them to pull up at the side of the track. They were swiftly followed by Strakka Racing who’s collision with the barrier damaged the exact same area that they previously damaged in the warm up. A lack of spare parts forced them to join the list of retirements.

The Lola of KSM began the day celebrating their call up to the Le Mans 24 Hours from the reserve list, but they had to retire early having been pushed to safety by the marshalls on track.

Three quarters in to the race and Peugeot took the outright lead with Sebastien Bourdais behind the wheel of the number 3 car. They were soon to make it a 1 -2 as Anthony Davidson took his Peugeot past the Audi of Dindo Capello. The Audi cars were quick in the straight with a low down force set up similar to that used at Le Mans. The Peugeots showed better speed in the corners as they were using a higher down force set up similar to the one they used successfully at Sebring earlier this year.

At the beginning of the final hour the safety car returned when the Aston Martin DBR9 piloted by Christof Nygaard spun in to the barrier. This nasty accident caused major damage to the front of the car and doctors were called to remove Nygaard from the remains of the vehicle. Fortunately the injuries sustained were only minor.

And so with 40 minutes of the race left the green flag was waved again setting up a sprint for the chequered flag. However, in keeping with the rest of the race, drivers struggled to keep their cars on the track, as the rain returned once more.

Despite the number 1 Peugeot becoming acquainted with the tyres at Rivage, the Peugeot team were happy again, when their number 2 car managed to pass the Audi out of the bus stop to regain the first 2 places.

And so, after a more than eventful race, including 139 laps of the famous Spa Francorchamps circuit, Peugeot took the chequered flag with a 1 -2, with Audi just 90 seconds behind in 3rd.

Elsewhere, the LMP2 honours were taken by the reigning champions Quifel-ASM ahead of the RML team. In GT1 team Matech completed a clean sweep with their 3 Ford GTs, and in GT2 the Porsche of Team Felbermayr-Proton held off the Ferrari of AF Corse to claim the top step on the podium.

All these competitions now move on to the big one; The Le Mans 24 Hours.