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Peugeot Power To 1000km Of Spa Victory

Peugeot emerged victorious from a 1000km of Spa that included heavy accidents, a visit from the infamously changeable Ardennes weather and even a power cut that brought the field to a halt for 40 minutes.

However, the race had not started well for the four 908 diesel coupes in the field – three with the factory effort, one run by Hughes de Chaunac's ORECA squad. Pedro Lamy, starting the pole-sitting no.3 car after Sebastien Bourdais had posted the fastest time on Saturday, could only hold the lead as far as the La Source hairpin, where the Portuguese spun the car, and though he didn't  hit anyone, or anything the delay dropped the car to the back of the front-running LMP1 group.

The ORECA Peugeot was not so lucky, crashing after only four laps as the field restarted after the first safety car, which was brought out by an opening lap accident for the no.29 Racing Box Lola, which crashed through Eau Rouge on the opening lap. And it was to be the same formidable corner that would claim the ORECA car, though not without some help from Jean-Christophe Boullion.

Bouillion, driving for the Swiss Rebellion Racing squad ran side-by-side around the top of Eau Rouge (technically Radillion), his Lola making minimal contact with the right-rear corner of Olivier Panis' car, sending the Frenchman spinning into the tyre wall on the outside of the corner.

Despite the shaky start the trio of works 908s ran  1-2-3 at end of the first hour, chased by the no.9 Audi, with the top eight in race – all LMP1 cars – on the lead lap.

However, the race was interrupted after just after the two hour mark by a localised power cut that plunged the pit and paddock into darkness and knocked out the scoring transponders. The race continued on for nearly twenty minutes before the cars were stopped on the start-finish straight under Parc Ferme conditions. Conversely, in the pitlane work could continue, allowing repairs to the no.8 Peugeot after Franck Montagny had crashed at Blanchimont seconds before the red flag.

There were fears that the stoppage could severely curtail the race, especially as the Spa-Francorchamps circuit operates to a curfew, but only lasted a relatively modest 40 minutes, after which the race back underway as normal.

Much of the race eventually hinged on a hour long sprint after the final safety car after Christoffer Nygaard spun and crashed heavily at Blanchimont, destroying the front end of his Young Driver AMR Aston Martin. It looked briefly as though an organisational problem between the two different safety cars would mean the end of any meaningful racing, but when rain started to fall will around 30 minutes remaining it reinvigorated the race for a thrilling finish.

With the car of Lamy, Bourdais and Simon Pagenaud leading by over a minute Peugeot opted to stay on slick tyres, while the no.7 Audi swapped from slicks to hand-cut intermediate tyres, with Tom Kristensen installed in the car for the final push.

With rain falling there was no doubt that it was the Audi team who had made the right decision, the Dane slicing into Pagenaud's lead. However, the weather in Spa is never certain and nearly as soon as the rain had arrived it had blown over, Kristensen going from attack to defence as he was forced to search offline for the merest of moisture, all the while hunted by the no.2 Peugeot.

That Stephane Sarrazin aboard the Peugeot would take second was inevitable, quickly catching passing and then pulling away from the Audi, which would finish third, with the top three all completing 139 laps inside the six hour time limit.

In the lower classes the Quifel-ASM team won LMP2 in their Ginetta-Zytek after a near-race long battle with RML HPD powered Lola and the pair of OAK Racing Pescarolos. The Strakka Racing HPD ARX01 that so dominated the opening Le Mans Series race at Paul Ricard was fast once more – its best lap eclipsing any other LMP2 runner by over two seconds – but less lucky. The car had several off track excursions it's day eventually ended after one incident too many left the team without the necessary parts to return the car to the track.

The Matech built Ford GTs enjoyed a superb debut in endurance racing – a test many had wondered if the cars, designed primarily for the GT1 World Championship, would cope with. It was the Marc VDS squad, with driver Markus Palltala, Bas Leinders and Eric de Doncker who took class honours. Second and third were the no.60 and no.61 cars run by Matech Competition themselves, the result just reward for the work the team had put in to rebuild the no.61 after a big accident earlier in the week.

LMGT2, once more, went the way of Mark Lieb and Richard Lietz for Team Felbermayr-Proton, their total of 124 laps actually putting them one ahead of the lead Ford GT from the class above. Behind Jaime Melo and Gimmi Bruni came out on top of an AF Corse internecine battle with the car of Jean Alesi, Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander, who picked up another podium finish to start the sportscar careers of the two former F1 drivers.