Oreca Peugeot secures Michelin’s 13th straight Sebring win

March 19, 2011

Oreca Peugeot secures Michelin’s 13th straight Sebring win

March 19, 2011

From left to right, Nicolas Lapierre, Loic Duval, Hughes de Chaunac and Olivier Panis celebrate Oreca Peugeot's win at Sebring. Photo credit: Rick Dole for Michelin North America

All the talk going into this year’s 12 Hours of Sebring was the renewed battle between the factory Audi and Peugeot teams, with Audi returning to the central Florida circuit after a year’s hiatus.

Team Oreca Matmut Peugeot never got that talking point.

The Hughes de Chaunac-led squad, which began running a Peugeot 908 HDi FAP in 2010 during European Le Mans Series rounds and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, made its first U.S. appearance this week since the 2009 Petit Le Mans.

With the mix of a reliable, developed car that first premiered in 2007 and a steady driver lineup of Nicolas Lapierre, Loic Duval and Olivier Panis that made almost no mistakes, Oreca surprised the establishment to capture the overall victory in this year’s 12 Hours of Sebring. It’s a win for the team to open both the American Le Mans Series season and the first race of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup for 2011, where Oreca will compete for the full season.

De Chaunac was in tears as his car crossed the line — an emotional triumph for the team principal whose company, Oreca, is also a successful constructor in its own right. Oreca also secured a podium in the LMP2 class, and is the exclusive provider of chassis to the LMP Challenge class.

“I think it’s really historic for us, for many reasons,” de Chaunac said. “It’s a race we feel to take step-by-step, I think we finished just ahead of three car manufacturers so we did this race by hoping to not do any mistakes.

“The nicest victory is always the next one … but here on a historical track, to win at Sebring is huge, historical, and mainly we have now won these race ourselves by the right strategy,” he added. “In the world of long distance races there are only two to win, Le Mans and Sebring. We were definitely not the favorite, but we are the winner.”

Highcroft Racing won the prototype Michelin Green X Challenge for Sebring and finished second overall. Photo credit: Rick Dole for Michelin North America

Michelin technical partner teams swept the podium in LMP1, with Highcroft Racing turning in an absolutely sterling effort in its new car. The substantially upgraded version of the HPD ARX-01e arrived to the team only last Saturday, and without any testing, the trio of David Brabham, Simon Pagenaud and Marino Franchitti took the car branded with the Michelin Man and MICHELIN® Pilot Super Sport signage to a runner-up finish.

Highcroft also took home the Prototype win in the MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge, as the E-10 fueled car was the prototype that traveled the fastest, furthest and with the least energy consumption.

At one point, during the heat of the afternoon, Pagenaud stormed to a triple stint on his set of Michelins. The 3.7-mile, 17 turn Sebring International Raceway’s old airport surface has many bumps that make for a slightly abrasive surface, making the run all the more impressive.

Toward the end of the race, when Pagenaud needed to defend against Franck Montagny in the new factory No. 8 Peugeot 908, Pagenaud succeeded in both saving fuel to last until the checkers and ran a quick enough pace to fend off Montagny. The irony here is that Pagenaud will be driving one of the new Peugeot in ILMC races later this year, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Peugeot’s factory team took a third place result in the new No. 8 Peugeot 908, driven by Montagny, Stephane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy. The car led a majority of the race but was blighted by pitting to repair a broken louvre, and forced to change its front nose assembly. When Lamy took over the car, he spun on his out lap, removing a chance at victory.

The two factory Audi R15 TDIs came home fourth and fifth overall to complete the top five sweep for Michelin technical partner teams. Although each car spent time behind the wall, repairs were made and the six drivers set some of the race’s fastest times. Their race was blighted as the No. 2 Audi and No. 7 Peugeot, with Dindo Capello and Marc Gene driving the cars, made contact at Turn 17.

Level 5 Motorsports took the victory in the P2 class, in its first race in the revived class. Team principal Scott Tucker along with co-drivers Luis Diaz and Ryan Hunter-Reay took the checkers in their No. 055 Lola HPD open-top prototype. Tucker’s team received their new open-top Lola prototype a week ago.

“This whole week was a big test session,” Tucker said. “Really, I have to hand it to Luis and Ryan. We had a small issue early, I think we went 10 laps down and it looked pretty negative for us. But things came out our way.”

Genoa Racing secured its first win in the LMP Challenge class courtesy of Dane Cameron, Jens Petersen and Michael Guasch in the No. 036 bright red Oreca FLM09. All three drivers were making their ALMS debuts. Additionally, this was the only class of the six at Sebring where the polesitting car took the victory.

In its ALMS debut, CORE Autosport finished second and third in class. The No. 005 (Jon Bennett, Frankie Montecalvo, Ryan Dalziel) beat the No. 006 (Gunnar Jeannette, Ricardo Gonzalez, Rudy Junco). All cars in the LMPC class run identical Oreca FLM09s with non-proprietary, customer Michelin tires.

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