FIRST BLOOD TO AUDI AS ORECA-PEUGEOT STUMBLES EARLY ON
As Oreca-Peugeot stumbles and sees its competitive edge blunted by reliability woes, Audi is there to pick up the pieces as McNish, Kristensen and Capello sweep to victory at Paul Ricard.
It was first blood to Audi in the battle of the titans in the 2010 Le Mans Series curtain-raiser at Paul Ricard, as the Ingolstadt manufacturer's trusty and indomitable trio of Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Rinaldo 'Dindo' Capello took advantage of problems for the pace-setting Oreca Peugeot to sweep to a comfortable victory on the competitive debut of the new Audi R15 Plus.
The challenge of the pole-sitting Oreca-Matmut Peugeot 908 HDi FAP of ex-Monaco Grand Prix-winner Olivier Panis, qualifying star Nicolas Lapierre and twice Le Mans 24 Hours runner-up Stephane Sarrazin fell apart early on when an air jack issue led to an 18-minute pit-stop - the equivalent of around 14 laps of the southern French circuit. Given that the all-homegrown line-up took the chequered flag just eight laps behind the race-winner, that only went to demonstrate what might have been.
Their troubles, however, opened the door for Audi to pounce, and the ultra-reliable, multiple Le Mans winners did not require a second invitation. In front of almost 14,000 spectators, Kristensen, McNish and Capello eased to a five-lap triumph over the Aston Martin Racing Lola of Adrian Fernandez, Harold Primat and Stefan Mücke. Jean-Christophe 'Jules' Boullion, Andrea Belicchi and Guy Smith completed the LMP1 rostrum for Rebellion Racing.
The heavily-delayed Oreca Peugeot and the sister, AIM-powered machine of Soheil Ayari, Didier Andre and Loïc Duval wound up respectively fourth and fifth outright, with the Signature-Plus Lola of Pierre Ragues, Franck Mailleux and Vanina Ickx completing the top half dozen.
In LMP2, the Strakka Racing entry of Danny Watts, Jonny Kane and Nick Leventis pipped long-time leader Oak Racing (Guillaume Moreau/Richard Hein) at the last, with the two cars being classified seventh and eighth overall, and first and second in class. Ninth and third in LMP2 was the RML machine of Andy Wallace, Mike Newton and Tommy Erdos.
In GT2, finally, Marc Lieb and Richard Lietz achieved glory for Felbermayr Proton, with team-mates Martin Ragginger, team owner Christian Ried and Patrick Long making it a one-two a couple of laps further down. Arguably the most popular result of the day, though, was local hero Jean Alesi mounting the bottom step of the GT2 podium in company with AF Corse Ferrari driving partners Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander on the French-Sicilian's LMS bow.