A dominant Peugeot squad ensured a 1-2 finish for the French marque at the final ILMC round in Zhuhai on Sunday.
Led to victory by the #7 Peugeot of Sebastien Bourdais / Anthony Davidson pairing, the Michelin-shod squad eased themselves to the chequered flag first, garnering a 38-second advantage as the clocked ticked down.
Bourdais registered the fastest lap along the way, although it was Davidson who finished the race for the lead Peugeot team ahead of the second French manufacturer, piloted by Stéphane Sarrazin and Franck Montagny (#8 Peugeot).
Audi claimed a distant 3rd with Timo Bernhard and Marcel Fässler in the #1 machine, while the second R18 entry – piloted by Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish (#2 Audi) – retired during the event.
It could have gone quite differently for the Peugeot drivers and their 908 machines. A sluggish opening for the French squad saw Montagny fall to 4th, behind the Audi pairing, while Bourdais continued to lead from pole ahead of McNish (2nd) and Bernhard (3rd).
The Audi pair swapped places twenty minutes in, offering Bernhard a chance to displace Bourdais – something he achieved ten minutes later. Bourdais soon fell to 4th overall behind Montagny, with the former Champ Car champion claiming tyre issues.
Montagny was also complaining about his Michelin rubber, prompting Peugeot to pit both cars at the 45-minute mark for fuel and tyres.
Audi made their first visit to the pits at this stage, although where Bernhard’s stop was for fuel only, McNish was stationary for far longer. An early light clash with a Ferrari damaged a legality panel at the rear of McNish’s R18, prompting desperate repairs in the garage, dropping the #2 Audi to 4th.
The day got even worse for McNish not long into the second hour. While lapping the #12 Rebellion Racing machine on the entry into turn one, the Scot received a significant clout from the Toyota-powered machine.
The hit was enough to damage a wiring loom at the rear of the Audi, prompting severe electrical issues as the race aged – issues that would eventually lead to the retirement of the bruised R18.
Over the following three hours, both McNish and Tom Kristensen dragged what little they could from the #2 Audi amidst lengthy pitstops, but with just over two hours remaining, the garage door fell for the final time.
The situation was a little more relaxed in the lead Audi garage – with just over one hour completed, Bernhard led by 20 seconds from Montagny and Bourdais, but it was not to last.
Sensing Bourdais was quicker, Montagny let the #7 Peugeot through into 2nd to chase after the front running Audi.
Where Zhuhai may not be the easiest of circuits on which to overtake, it still left plenty of scope for strategic running and it was here that Peugeot claimed the honours.
Change at the Front
Keeping Bourdais in the #7 Peugeot at the second stops – thereby shortening the stop length considerably – proved to be a masterstroke. With Fässler stepping into the #1 Audi in place of Bernhard, the German squad surrendered the race lead; gifting Bourdais a 12 second lead at the two-hour mark.
A driver change for the #8 Peugeot – Sarrazin in for Montagny – kept them firmly in 3rd, but still closing in on the slightly sluggish Fässler. With each tour, the race was falling away from the German constructor.
Fässler’s Audi would regain the top spot – briefly – gaining the advantage when Bourdais finally gave up his seat to Davidson at the 2 hour 20 minute mark, but it was short-lived.
With both Fässler and Sarrazin stopping for fuel only, the Audi’s lead shrunk to six seconds, while Davidson – in a temporary 3rd – threatened rearguard action.
The ultimate change occurred just prior to the halfway point in the race. Pressured by an ever-closer Sarrazin, Fässler committed an error while lapping a GT runner in turn one, forcing the #1 Audi to slither momentarily.
It was all Sarrazin needed – within a moment, the #8 Peugeot breezed through into the race lead, with Davidson also taking the slightly dented Audi minutes later.
Now heading the field, Sarrazin drew to one side, offering the Davidson the opportunity to front the field, as the LMP1 squads contemplated the next round of stops.
The lead somewhat secure, Davidson stayed for another stint in the #7 Peugeot, while Montagny retook the wheel of the #8 Peugeot from Sarrazin. Fässler, meanwhile, pitted the #1 Audi, letting Bernhard take control once again.
Dominant to the Flag
From here, it was a Peugeot demonstration. Amongst the final series of stops, the #7 Peugeot pulled gingerly away from the Montagny / Sarrazin entry, while the #1 Audi fell further and further behind.
Come the chequered flag, Davidson had drawn a 38.6 second lead from Sarrazin – the pairing confidently bringing their French machinery home, completing 249 laps along the way.
The final indignation came for Audi in the closing hour – first as the #1 Audi lapped by both Peugeot’s, topped off by a lairy spin in the last turn for Fässler with only 15 minutes remained.
Behind the factory squads, Rebellion Racing assumed a fine 4th place with Neel Jani and Nicolas Prost at the wheel of the Lola-Toyota, albeit seven laps adrift in the petrol car.
In some respects, it was a fortunate finish for the #12 Rebellion. Although time was lost following the second hour clash with the #2 Audi, that was all that fell away; however the Swiss squad still had to fight for it.
Finding themselves behind the Oak Pescarolo-Judd in the second half of the race, both Jani and Prost worked hard to close down Oak Racing’s Olivier Pla, eventually taking the Frenchman four-and-a-half hours in.
The Oak Racing trio could do little to stop the advance of the #12 Rebellion. The #24 machine – piloted by Jacques Nicolet and Alexandre Prémat alongside Pla – would eventually lose a lap to the Rebellion runners, yet it was still a credible 5th for the all-French squad.
Indeed, they still kept their heads above water, despite dropping several minutes in the pitlane at the beginning of the third hour, taking the top-five over a lap ahead of the #007 Lola Aston Martin.
Oak Racing’s second trio, consisting of Matthieu Lahaye, Guillaume Moreau and Pierre Ragues secured a quiet 7th place; a long way ahead of the next entry, the Tokai University’s Courage-Oreca. There was some small celebration for the Tokai squad – they became the first (and last) hybrid LMP1 machine to finish an ILMC race.
In their sole ILMC event for 2011, what had been a somewhat positive endeavour for the Tokai team, turned sour with just over an hour remaining, when one of their wheels fell off following a stop. By race end, the Japanese team had fallen 62 laps adrift of the victors.
Signatech Nissan took the honours in a dreadfully depleted LMP2 field. The French squad – wheeled by Franck Mailleux, Lucas Ordoñez and Jean-Karl Vernay – enjoyed a fifteen-lap advantage over the #35 Oak Racing entrants – their sole category rivals.
It was a mostly quiet event for Signatech, whose run to the flag was only interrupted by battered front and rear decks in the final hour.
The same could not be said for the Oak Racing machine. The Judd-powered French team parked their entry for extended periods in the closing stages, allowing the Frederic da Rocha / Patrice Lafargue to fall down the overall standings.
LM GTE Pro
The #51 AF Corse team completed just enough laps to be counted towards the LM GTE championship challenge ahead of BMW Motorsport – a shame as it detracted from a fascinating final round battle.
Come the six-hour mark, BMW did indeed take the category win – they took a 1-2 in fact – led by their #55 entry, driven by Augusto Farfus and Jörg Müller, with the second M3 machine following one lap behind.
Both BMW’s did lose some time in the early running, with the Farfus / Müller car parked in the pits for a brief period, while the #56 machine (Andy Priaulx and Uwe Alzen at the controls) suffered contact with the #62 CRS Racing Ferrari.
The BMW’s had precious little challenge in the latter stages from #59 Luxury Racing Ferrari F458, manned by Frédéric Makowieki and Stéphane Ortelli. Following the halfway point, the red charge faded as the BMW’s made sure of their Chinese success.
Lotus took 4th with one of their Jetalliance Evora entries, although the Michelin-shod machine managed only 194 laps, after the #64 banked itself deep in the turn 11 gravel with thirty minutes remaining.
The title winning AF Corse squad finished a distant 5th.
LM GTE Am and Others
Proton Competition took their second class win of the season with Richard Lietz, Gianluca Roda and Christian Ried at the wheel of their Porsche 911. They won out in an early battle with class champions Larbre Competition Corvette to pull a lap away. Completing the podium was the #57 Krohn Racing entry, beating its fellow Ferrari #62 CRS Racing by just over a minute.
Gulf AMR gave their Vantage a 5th place finish in GTE Am, hurt no doubt by a long visit to the gravel trap mid-race.
Zhang Shanqi and Wei Liang Chen delivered the PTRS Oreca – the race’s sole FLM car – to the flag in 213 laps, while in GTC, Audi confirmed a 1-2 finish with a pair of R8’s, headed by Edoardo Mortara, Darryl O’Young and Alexandre Imperatori.
Come next year, the World Endurance Championship steps up, as the ILMC ceases to be.
Race Rating: 1.5 out of 5
2011 ILMC 6 Hours of Zhuhai (RD 7; 249 Laps) Pos Cl Drivers Team/Car Time/Gap 1. LMP1 Bourdais/Davidson Peugeot 6h01m24.879s 2. LMP1 Montagny/Sarrazin Peugeot + 38.651s 3. LMP1 Bernhard/Fassler Audi + 1 lap 4. LMP1 Jani/Prost Rebellion Lola-Toyota + 7 laps 5. LMP1 Nicolet/Premat/Pla OAK Pescarolo-Judd + 9 laps 6. LMP1 Meyrick/Mucke/Primat AMR Lola-Aston Martin + 10 laps 7. LMP1 Lahaye/Moreau/Ragues OAK Pescarolo-Judd + 11 laps 8. LMP2 Mailleux/Ordonez/Vernay Signatech ORECA-Nissan + 21 laps 9. GTE P Farfus/Muller BMW + 28 laps 10. GTE P Priaulx/Alzen BMW + 29 laps 11. GTE P Makowiecki/Ortelli Luxury Ferrari + 31 laps 12. GTE A Lietz/Roda/Ried Proton Porsche + 32 laps 13. GTE A Bornhauser/Canal/Beretta Larbre Corvette + 33 laps 14. GTE A Krohn/Jonsson/Rugolo Krohn Ferrari + 34 laps 15. GTE A Ehret/Mullen/Wills CRS Ferrari + 34 laps 16. LMP2 Da Rocha/Lafargue OAK Pescarolo-Judd + 36 laps 17. FLM Shanqi/Chen PTRS FLM + 36 laps 18. GTC Mortara/O'Young/Imperatori C Audi + 39 laps 19. GTC Lee/Gruber/Tak Mak Race Experience Audi + 46 laps 20. GTE A Giroix/Goethe Gulf Aston Martin + 51 laps 21. GTE P Slingerland/Rich/Rasmussen Jetalliance Lotus + 55 laps 22. LMP1 Shogo/Naoki Tokai Courage-ORECA + 62 laps 23. GTE P Fisichella/Bruni AF Ferrari + 63 laps Retirements: GTC Tsuzuki/Kim/Van Dam Hitotsuyama Audi 169 laps GTE P Rossiter/Mowlem/Heinemeier Jetalliance Lotus 163 laps LMP1 Kristensen/McNish Audi 139 laps GTE P Beltoise/Farnbacher/Firman Luxury Ferrari 110 laps GTC Cheng/Arnold/Hakkinen AMG China Mercedes 73 laps GTE A Cioci/Ma AF Ferrari 22 laps
2011 ILMC (Rd 7) LMP1 Manufacturers 1 Peugeot 211 2 Audi 119 GTE Manufacturers 1 Ferrari 171 2 BMW 152 3 Porsche 114 4 Corvette 95 5 Aston Martin 19 6 Lotus 15 LMP1 Teams 1 Peugeot Sport Total 113 2 Audi Sport Team Joest 85 3 Rebellion Racing 50 4 Team Oreca Matmut 47 5 Oak Racing 33 6 Aston Martin Racing 22 LMP2 teams 1 Signatech Nissan 95 2 Oak Racing 63 Level 5 Motorsport 57 LM GTE Pro 1 AF Corse 108 2 BMW Motorsport 101 3 Luxury Racing 38 4 Lotus Jetalliance 27 LM GTE Am 1 Larbre Competition 93 2 Krohn Racing 62 3 Proton Competition 52 4 CRS Racing 50 5 AF Corse 47 6 Gulf AMR Middle East 23