ALMS: ORECA Peugeot Scores Sebring Win

Hugues de Chaunac-led squad outpaces and outlasts the factory diesels in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup season-opener

John Dagys Posted March 19, 2011 Sebring, FL

(Photo: John Dagys)

While the factory Audi and Peugeot squads were clear favorites heading into Saturday’s Intercontinental Le Mans Cup season-opener, one team quietly flew under the radar all week.

Team ORECA Matmut may have had the intention of playing a supporting role to the works Peugeot squad, but at the end of twelve hours of hard-fought racing, the veteran French squad came out on top at the 59th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

Nicolas Lapierre, Olivier Panis and Loic Duval drove their 2010-spec Peugeot 908 HDi-FAP to a 31.868-second victory over defending American Le Mans Series LMP champions Highcroft Racing with its brand-new HPD ARX-01e, which proved to be the other surprise of the race.

Team ORECA Matmut put on an impressive display in front of the factory competition. (Photo: John Dagys)

The 12-hour enduro came down to a three-way battle, but with only one of the factory diesels in contention. Both Audi Sport Team Joest entries, favorites for the win with its tried-and-trusted Audi R15s, each suffered early race setbacks, including Dindo Capello’s costly collision with the No. 7 Peugeot of Marc Gene in the fifth hour, which put both behind the wall for repairs.

With Audi’s other bullet, the Mike Rockenfeller-driven No. 1 machine, suffering two punctures in the second hour, the No. 8 Peugeot of Stephane Sarrazin, Franck Montagny and Pedro Lamy appeared to be in route to victory.

Despite having brand-new cars that hadn't even turned a wheel until one week ago, Level 5 Motorsports got both of its Lola-Hondas to the finish, with the No. 055 machine taking victory. (Photo: John Dagys)

The new-look LMP2 class came down to a battle of endurance, with Level 5 Motorsports taking back-to-back Sebring wins. The team’s No. 055 Lola B11/40 Honda of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Tucker outlasted the competition, despite a mid-race scare when the open-top machine ground to a halt on track with only three wheels.

Despite losing over 30 minutes from the incident, caused by a loose wheel nut, the trio rebounded to finish 20th overall in the car’s debut race.

“We knew the race was going to be like this,” Hunter-Reay said. “It was about keeping the car clean, and when you do have a problem, deal with it the quickest and most efficient way. LMP2, for some reason, always seems to be that way. But that’s what this is, it’s an endurance race.”

The pole-sitting No. 26 Signatech Oreca 03 Nissan of Soheil Ayari, Franck Mailleux and Lucas Ordonez came home ten laps behind in second after battling gearbox and electrical issues. OAK Racing’s Oak-Pescarolo Judd completed the podium in third, also being delayed with various gremlins.

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