14 days

Hey You!


Scrutineering Bay

Not that it's any of my business

Notes from the Cellar

Across the Border

Focal Point







Mail  to a friend

Penalty Box

Family and friends

Postcards from the edge

sportscarpros CottonBalls

Michael & Andrew Cotton
Index Index
Back Back


Top of Page

How the L’Ouest was won……………..

Peugeot’s team members, and management too, will have spent the days following the Le Mans 24-Hour thriller asking: “How, and why, did we lose?” The French diesel cars were up to six seconds a lap faster in qualifying, around four seconds a lap faster in the race, yet the number 2 Audi never got off their backs and eventually pulled off a victory that defeated the odds.

A study of the pit stops is illuminating.  We know that Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Dindo Capello drove a storming race, close to flat-out all the way. The only minuscule glitch happened in the 22nd hour when Juan Barazi ran into the back of Kristensen’s Audi at the Dunlop chicane, tipping the Dane into a lazy 360 spin which probably cost him no more than 15 seconds.

The Audi’s pit crew performed in exemplary fashion throughout the 24 hours, routinely doing fuel-only stops in 50-52 seconds, fuel-plus-tyres-plus driver changes in 60-65 seconds. Only two stops took longer the 67 seconds, the 13th at 74 seconds and the 17th at 72 seconds. In all, the number 2 Audi made 32 stops with a total of 31 minutes 55 seconds at rest. The average stop therefore was a fraction under 60 seconds, a nigh on perfect service for the best driver combination in the event.

I said to Audi Sport Team Joest’s technical director Ralf Jüttner on Friday that if one of his cars had a perfect race, Peugeot would have a job to beat it. “I hope we will have a perfect race for all three cars” he replied, with a nervous laugh. The team leaders were, of course, seven times winner Tom Kristensen, who was very buoyant in race week and is now fully recovered from his DTM accident, Allan McNish who was eating his heart out to claim his second Le Mans victory, on the anniversary of his first, and Dindo Capello, determined to make up for the catastrophe in June 2007 when a rear wheel fell of his Audi, when victory was beckoning.  Jüttner, incidentally, was McNish’s engineer when his Porsche 911 GT1/98 was victorious in 1998…they go back a long way.

The number 1 Audi of multiple champions Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner, was really not on the pace. Even without the clutch failure on Sunday morning the veterans did not have the pace to win the event; their potential was to finish six laps behind the winners.  Again, the less experienced crew of Lucas Luhr, Mike Rockenfeller and Alexandre Premat was a little disappointing, the number 3 Audi trailing two laps behind on Sunday morning, and seven down after having their diesel’s oil filter changed. Although they lacked the keen competitive edge, Premat turned in the fastest Audi lap of the race at 3m 23.939s, a couple of tenths quicker than the fastest lap of the winners.

Pedro Lamy, though, established the new Le Mans lap record at a stunning 3m 19.394s, an average of 246.068 km/h (152.90 mph). Peugeot’s outright lap record is certain to remain in the books for many years, because the ACO has vowed to slow the cars down considerably in 2009, by at least 10 seconds a lap, by means of smaller air restrictors and possibly, in the case of the diesels, by restricting the fuel flow.

A brief study of the downtimes in the pits reveals Peugeot’s weaknesses, and indicates clearly where the French will need to improve in June 2009. Where the Audis made 32, 33 and 34 stops in 24 hours, the Peugeots made 36, 35 and 37 stops and they were usually appreciably slower than those of the Audis.  The second and third-placed Peugeots each lost a little over 10 minutes compared with the number 2 Audi, the equivalent of three laps of track time, and they simply couldn’t afford to give away three laps to the Audi which was running with metronomic efficiency.  The French might refer to the need to cleanse the water radiators on all three cars, because they clogged- up and caused overheating when debris was saturated with rain from 4 am, but these operations cost them between two-and-a-half and three minutes inside the garage, not enough to have cost them victory.

The sleek coupe body style of the Peugeots gave them a higher top speed than the Audis, but the downside was extra seconds needed for driver changes, and poor visibility for the drivers when it rained.  As last year, Jacques Villeneuve was a slow starter out of the blocks and described the Peugeot as “a nightmare to drive” when it rained. The 908s were set up stiffly, for dry running, and could not double-stint their tyres when it rained. This shows up very clearly in the pit stop timings, routinely 70-80 seconds in the nine hours when the circuit was wet, sometimes longer.

No, Peugeot’s operation was not quite slick enough to beat the traditional masters of Le Mans. Audi have almost seamlessly donned the cloak of efficiency once worn by Porsche, and gave us the perfect race this year. Peugeot might rue the fact that rain set in shortly after 4 am, and the track was wet for some nine hours, because the tables were turned and the number 2 Audi was generally faster than all three Peugeots when conditions were poor.  It is worth noting too, by putting in a marathon, three-hour quadruple stint from the start, McNish was able to lead the second and third hours on the time sheets, giving Peugeot notice that even if the weather remained dry; they would still have a big fight on their hands.

The extra time spent in the pits by the Peugeots numbers 7 and 9, more than 10 minutes or three laps compared with the number 2 Audi, proved decisive. Had they not been in the pits for those precious minutes then Nic Minassian, Marc Gené and Jacques Villeneuve had the potential to cover 383 laps, Franck Montagny, Ricardo Zonta and Christian Klien 382 laps and they would have been first and second overall.

Ifs and maybes don’t count, though. It did rain and Team Peugeot Total was discomforted, for want of a better word, and out-classed by a superior Audi team. You have to go back 20 years, to 1988 when Tom Walkinshaw’s Silk Cut Jaguar XJR12 beat the Shell/Dunlop Porsche 962C by 2m 36s, to find a closer finish between two rival manufacturers.

No doubt about it, the 2008 edition of Le Mans was an absolute classic. As a footnote, the Van Merksteijn Motorsport Porsche RS Spyder had a near perfect run to 10th position, winner of the LMP2 category, the first time the Spyder has raced for more than 12 hours. David Brabham, Darren Turner and Antonio Garcia enjoyed a perfect race in the Aston Martin Racing DBR9 to win the GT1 class, and Giuseppe Risi’s Ferrari 430 driven by Mika Salo, Jaime Melo and Gianmaria Bruni also had a completely trouble-free run to win the GT2 class. The message is very clear: to win at Le Mans these days you need to reach perfection in preparation and driving. Anything less will be punished!

Michael Cotton, June 2008

 Eds note.........Michael has produced a table with all of the pit stop details......but the item refuses to format for publishing on the web.........so as this must be posted before next year's race here is a summary.

#2 Audi        32 stops 31:55
#7 Peugeot  36 stops 42:10  3 laps lost
#9 Peugeot  35 stops 42:36  3 laps lost
#3 Audi        33 stops 48:34  5 laps lost
#8 Peugeot  37 stops 80:46  13 laps lost
#1 Audi       34 stops 57:40   8 laps lost