Peugeot do well in practice for the last race of the season at Silverstone
The final round of the Le Mans Series is at the same time the opener to the Intercontinental Cup – star cast in all classes!
After the withdrawal of Atlas Saleen, some 45 teams sallied forth today to ready their racing cars for the fifth and final race of the Le Mans series. Every leading driver will be there at the start, because in the1,000km race at Silverstone titles in all categories, except for GT1, are up for grabs and it's the opening race for the new ILMC series, Intercontinental Le Mans Challenge. The loss of Nigel Mansell is of course a great blow for local fans, though. 1992 Formula One World Champion, Nigel, crashed out of Le Mans and his doctors have refused the OK to co drive the Beechdean Ginetta Zytek with sons Greg and Leo at Silverstone.
Despite that, the return of the Audi and Peugeot works teams to the fray in LMP1 should arouse some attention. Both manufacturers with their respective teams, Joest and Oreca, have a good chance of claiming the Le Mans Series title and want to get off to a flying start in the Intercontinental series at the "Home of British Motor Racing".In first practice, Audi set the pace right from the start. For a good while, Allan McNish kept the Aston Martin and Rebellion Lola coupés at bay, until Peugeot finally put a 908 into P2. With a time of 01:46.259 minutes, Tom Kristensen showed what his Audi R15plus can do and secured best time on the first test, followed by Anthony Davidson in a Peugeot, Neel Jani in a Rebellion-Lola and the Oreca 908 driven by Nicolas Lapierre.
Nick Leventis, placed ninth overall, was quickest LMP2 driver in first practice in the surprise winning car in Hungary (Strakka), ahead of Oak and Bruichladdich in P12 and P13.
In the second session, Peugeot were again in a dominant position, reminiscent of the Sarthe race. At the wheel of a works diesel coupé, Nicolas Minassian lapped the tradition-filled Northamptonshire circuit in 01:43.935 minutes, more than a second quicker than Nicolas Lapierre in the identical Team Oreca car. Allan McNish and Dindo Capello followed some way off in the two Audis.
In the small prototype category, best time went to the Ginetta Zytek of Team Quifel ASM, followed by Strakka Racing and RML.
In the GT2 Class, the title will go, as in the previous year to Richard Lietz and Marc Lieb for Team Felbermayr Proton. After claiming three wins from four races, the title defenders in the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR just need three more points to take the championship title. Lietz commented, "Silverstone has a terrific sports car tradition and the enthusiasm of the English fans is an additional motivating factor. In the end, though, we weren't as good as our rivals in qualifying. We're working hard to ensure that we're on the front row for the final." Last year, his extra point for pole position greatly contributed to his taking the championship.
For a long time, the first training session appeared to be firmly in the grip of Dirk Werner in the BMW M3 GT2, until Marco Holzer propelled the Prospeed Porsche past him. Behind them came the two Felbermayr 911s and the IMSA Porsche. Practice was a bit disappointing for AF Corse – P36 for Jean Alesi, P39 for Gianmaria Bruni and P40 for Matias Russo.
In the following session, the Italians counterattacked with Toni Vilander and second place (behind the JMW Aston Martin), a short head in front of title favourites Felbermayr-Proton.
That GT1 overall winners Larbre in the Saleen were able to take both practice sessions is simply down to a lack of competition. The last competitor (Atlas FX) in the soon-to-become extinct LMS class was unable to repair his car in time after a smash in Budapest and will miss the season's end.