A lot is happening this weekend. The World Cup kicks off, Formula 1 goes back to Montreal for the Canadian GP and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s most famous endurance race is on. For the latter, it was always going to be Peugeot versus Audi with their diesel machines, and the French brand fired an early warning by bagging a 1-2 at the 1,000 km endurance race at Spa-Francorchamps last month, considered to be a “full dress rehearsal” for Le Mans.
More significantly, the four Peugeot 908 HDi FAP cars (three factory cars, one run by Oreca) have locked out the front two rows of the grid for the race, after beating Audi into submission throughout qualifying.
Bespectacled ex-F1 driver Sebastien Bourdais was the man to clinch pole, with his 3m19.711s effort on Wednesday proving good enough for top spot. Stephane Sarrazin, the man on pole in the last three consecutive 24 Hours, was denied a fourth time when the final stint in the #2 car was given to Nicolas Minassian. Their car finished third. Second spot went to Alex Wurz, Anthony Davidson and Marc Gene – all ex F1 drivers. The sole 908 run by a privateer team was in fourth, ahead of the three Audi R15 cars.
In the final qualifying session, Audi had closed the gap to the Peugeots, with Allan McNish moving into the 3m22s and then Mike Rockenfeller chalking up a 3m21s, which was only less than eight tenths slower than the Oreca Peugeot in fourth. But that was before the French marque sent its cars out for one last run to deflate their German rivals. None of the four 908s improved their best time set on Wednesday, but Bourdais, Minassian and Nicolas Lapierre widened the gap over the Audis to underline their dominance so far.
But of course, the unpredictable Le Mans is a 24-hour race, not a sprint, and anything can happen this weekend.