Returning after more than decade Team Oreca Matmut took a historic win at the 59th 12 Hours of Sebring, beating off the challenge for the works Peugeot and Audi teams as well as Highcroft Racing.
After incidents in the first half of the race had thinned the field at the head of the race Oreca's no.10 team gained the lead in the closing hours of the race when the no.8 works Peugeot was forced into bodywork repairs on a pitstop and the Nicolas Lapierre and Loic Duval held onto the lead through their final stints to cross the finish line with a 32 second advantage at the end of 332 laps. Olivier Panis completed the driving trio that shared the Peugeot 908 HDI FAP – the 2010 car restrained to within the new regulations.
The win was sealed when the team called the car in for a late splash-and-dash stop, ensuring the car could make the end of the race, and that another safety car period – the race had nine in total, though none spoilt the final hours – would not affect their strategy.
“It's a historical result!” said Oreca group president Hugues de Chaunac. “We built this victory step by step. We finished ahead of three factory teams and the drivers and team were perfect. I had asked them to be quick and make no mistakes: it wasn't easy, but they did it! We were able to count on a car – the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP – that's competitive and reliable. I'm very pround of Nicolas, Loic, Olivier and the rest of the team. The engineers made the right decisions, including the last 'splash' that was done at the right moment. Really, it was a perfect race. We weren't the favourites, but we are the winners. It's awesome!”
“To be honest, I hadn't imagined that I would be in that position,” said Duval of his final stint when he took the car over in the lead. “With ten laps to go, things got better: I wasn't taking any risks and I knew it was going to happen. I still don't believe what's happened! I think we did something big and it will sink in during the coming days. And to share in this victory with the team and my teammates, it's great.“
“The team really deserves this win,” added Lapierre. “It's a very special victory and the first for me at such a legendary endurance race.”
The team's previous visit, in 2000, was no less successful, when they took a 1-2-3 finish in the GTS class.
The win also put the team, who plan a full season in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC), at the top of the LMP1 points standings for the seven event championship, technical director David Floury perhaps looking ahead when he remarked; “I hope this victory is more a step rather than an end in itself.”