Team ORECA Matmut got their 2010 campaign off to the best possible start, their customer Peogeot 908 HDi FAP taking pole position for the 8 Hours of Le Castellet, the opening round of the Le Mans Series.
With the works team opting out of the race, instead saving themselves for Spa in May after their 12 Hours of Sebring the ORECA diesel coupe is the only example of last year's Le Mans winning car in the field, and Nicolas Lapierre, qualifying the car took full advantage of that impressive pedigree.
“Obviously, we couldn't hope for a better position,' said Lapierre, who will share the car with Olivier Panis and Stephane Sarrazin for the race. “Since the start of the weekend the behavior of the Peugeot's been very positive. We've done a lot of work on the race setup.”
Frenchman Lapierre lapped the 5.8km Paul Ricard track in 1:41.195, comfortably clear of the Audi R15 TDi in its first race after an off-season of extensive development that has resulted in a radically different looking car for Allan McNish and Dindo Capello to debut, Tom Kristensen deciding not to race for what would seem to be medical reasons. The early success for the ORECA team over Audi was not lost on the French team's principal Hughes de Chaunac who described having done a “good job for Peugeot” in bettering the Audi challenge.
The nominal prize of best petrol car went to the works Lola-Aston Martin, though driver Stefan Mucke could only close to within eight-tenths of the diesel racers as the technical regulations, designed to close up diesel and petrol runners, had little chance to show any effect over the 20 minute qualifying session.
The ORECA 01-AIM was fourth fastest, ahead of the two Rebellion Racing Lola coupes and the Beechdean Ginetta of Mansell/Mansell/Mansell (1992 F1 champion Nigel and sons Leo and Greg) seventh.
LMP2 class pole went to another team with a new car – Strakka Racing and Briton Danny Watts putting the HPD (nee Acura) ARX-01 on pole in the car's European debut three years after it first appeared in the American Le Mans Series. Watts recorded a lap of 1:44.989 – a time more on a par with the LMP1 cars than his class rivals, the ASM Ginetta, second fastest in LMP2 over two seconds slower.
“This is the car, not me,the car is too good for us at the moment,” laughed Watts. “I drove at the limit and the pace was really good.We need to feel more comfortable with the car, but it is a fantastic car that achieved a lot in USA these last past years.”
Behind them was the OAK Racing Pescarolo and two more teams on promising debuts with new machinery, RML qualifying fourth fastest in their first race after swapping Mazda power for HPD and Team Bruichladdich Ginetta in fifth in their first race with the Yorkshire-based manufacturer after several seasons with Radical.
Eduardo Piscopo was fastest of the seven Formula Le Mans cars in the field, the FLM09 chassis integrated into the main Le Mans Series after competing in a separate spec series in 2009.
In the GT2 class, arguably the most competitive in the race it was one of three AF Corse Ferraris that took the class pole in the hands of Gianmaria Bruni beating reigning class champions Team Felbermayr-Proton into second. Perhaps the most attention grabbing car in the class – the AF Corse entry which includes Giancarlo Fisichella and Jean Alesi was fourth fastest in class, though it was Finn Toni Vilander who qualified the car rather than his F1 experienced teammates.
Of the lone manufacturer entries the Dunlop shod Aston Martin of JMW Motorsport was by far the fastest, Rob Bell placing the car fifth, the Spyker C8 Laviolette in its new red and black livery was ninth fastest and the BMW M3 GT2 struggling to thirteenth and last in class.
Photo Credit: www.oreca-racing.com