Despite strong showings from both their cars Team ORECA Matmut left Paul Ricard having just missed out on the podium places at the 8 Hours of Le Castellet.
Saturday's qualifying meant the French team's cars started the race well placed, their customer Peugeot 908 starting on pole with their self-built ORECA 01 in fourth. However, competition then mechanical gremlins would dent the team's challenge early in the race.
Peugeot works driver Stephane Sarrazin started the no.4 Peugeot diesel, but could only hold the lead of for a handful of corners as while fending off the attentions of the Audi R15 that started alongside him the Lola-Aston Martin was able to squeeze past into the lead, though both diesels would quickly repass the Gulf liveried car.
Behind the ORECA 01 was involved in a battle for fourth with the Signature Plus Aston Martin and the two Rebellion Racing Lolas but fell back to fifteenth after pitting with a thrown tyre tread on lap eight. The car fitted with new Dunlops Soheil Ayari set about regaining the lost ground, proving it's pace and, save for the early anomaly, reliability.
“I had no worries about the competitiveness of the ORECA 01,” said driver Loic Duval. “It was well balanced throughout the race. It was really consistent and easy to drive, and proof of this was that I was going through Signes flat, and I unlapped myself in relation to the Aston Martin. Without the thrown tyre tread, we could have made it onto the podium.”
Unfortunately for the team one of the cars that Ayari, Duval and Didier Andre were able to pass was the Peugeot, which was forced to pit inside the first hour, being wheeled back into the garage with an air jack problem. The team, principal Hughes de Chaunac admits “failed to analyse the problem”, adding to the repair which cost the car eighteen minutes in total dropping it nine laps off the pace, from where they too mounted their fightback. Largely faultless running, matching and often bettering the pace of the leading Audi, saw the car quickly recover past the slower LMP2 cars and back into the leading group of LMP1 cars, plateauing in fifth in the final hour.
Still the two ORECA entered cars would cross paths in the closing minutes of the race, the ORECA 01 forced into two late pitstops that saw Nicolas Lapierre in the Peugeot leapfrog up into fourth place.
“It's very frustrating,” Lapierre admitted, commenting on finishing fourth. “We had the speed to take the fight to the Audi and the race confirmed that we're on the pace. We took advantage of the event to learn about the behavior of the Peugeot in these conditions, and the race has been very valuable in terms of information both for the team and for the drivers. It's good in view of the 24 Hours but it has a slightly bitter taste.”
“We've accomplished our mission,” technical director David Floury is quoted on the press release for the ORECA 01, but in a statement that could easily be applied to both cars. “On the one hand, gather the maximum amount of information by finishing the race, which confirms our reliability and that helps us draw conclusions about the tyres. That was one of the unfamiliar aspects; now we know more and there's still work to do.”
“Without the thrown tyre tread and the bonnet changes [and air jack problems], we'd have done better.”
Photo Credit: www.oreca-racing.com