LMS - Oreca Peugeot dominant at Portimao
The third of five race weekends in the Le Mans Series is taking place at the 4.65km Algarve Racetrack in Portugal. "This circuit is fantastic," says Olivier Pla. "It's quite different from most of the newer tracks. The rollercoaster at Portimao offers a mix of fast, slow and blind corners. It's both interesting and challenging to negotiate."
The three practice sessions on Friday produced identical outcomes: former F1 driver and GP winner Olivier Panis together with fellow Frenchman Nicolas Lapierre posted the best time in their Oreca Matmut Peugeot ahead of Lola/Rebellion duo Nicolas Prost and Neel Jani. The Peugeot was in a league of its own and, despite taking a spin that flat-spotted a tyre half an hour before the end of the third session, Lapierre was still 1.5 seconds faster than his closest pursuer.
Sharing the driving with Panis and Lapierre for the rest of the season is another Frenchman, Stephane Sarrazin. The third man in the cockpit of the Number 4 Oreca-Matmut Peugeot 908 HDi FAP already helped out during the 8-hour race at Le Castellet. "Stephane will be joining us for the next three races on the basis of our close collaboration with Peugeot Sport," says Hugues de Chaunac. "We not only value his qualities as a driver but also the fact that he has already slotted so smoothly into the team."
Alongside the Oreca Matmut Peugeot and the Rebellion Racing Lola, there are two more entries in the LMP1 class: the Signature Lola Aston Martin driven by Pierre Ragues, Franck Mailleux and Vanina Ickx plus the second Rebellion Racing Lola with Andrea Berlicchi and Jean-Christophe Boullion behind the wheel.
Putting in some fast laps during the night-time practice were the LMP2 cars of Quifel ASM (Miguel Amaral, Olivier Pla) and Strakka Racing (Danny Watts, Jonny Kane, Nick Leventis). Both improved their daylight lap times, and in the third session, they came in just behind the three leading LMP1 cars of Oreca Matmut, Rebellion Racing and Signature. In the GT2 category, Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander Ferrari secured first and second places respectively.
Saturday's event is a first for the series with the drivers making an authentic Le Mans start to the 1,000km race, i.e. they will run from the pit lane and jump into their cars before driving off. This classic start is scheduled for 5pm local time and the race is expected to finish at 11pm. Last year's winners were Jean-Christophe Boullion and Christophe Tinseau of the Pescarolo team.