Peugeot sweeps front row in Nurburgring qualifying

Peugeot sweeps front row in Nurburgring qualifying

Marc Gene stormed to the overall pole Saturday in qualifying for the Nurburgring 1000km, the fourth round of the Le Mans Series season. The Spaniard narrowly edged out his Team Peugeot Total teammate of Pedro Lamy to give the French Lions another ...

Marc Gene stormed to the overall pole Saturday in qualifying for the Nurburgring 1000km, the fourth round of the Le Mans Series season. The Spaniard narrowly edged out his Team Peugeot Total teammate of Pedro Lamy to give the French Lions another sweep of the front row.

Gene's lap time of 1:39.492 was over two seconds faster than his pole time here last year. The gain in speed could be in part be related to Peugeot's new "sprint setup" they are using for the first time this weekend. The configuration is similar to what the 908 HDI-FAPs ran at Le Mans in June, but with additional downforce.

"We have achieved our goal which was to get both cars onto the front row," Gene said. "Starting from pole is especially important here since the first turn is very tight and it is easier to defend from in front during the early part of the race. As is frequently the case in the Le Mans Series, traffic promises to be a problem. We will need to tread carefully and avoid brushing the slower cars as we pass them, which is what happened to me this morning. The team has once again done a fantastic job and our car is very nicely balanced."

Gene and co-driver Nicolas Minassian will roll off alongside the sister No. 8 entry of Stephane Sarrazin and Lamy. The difference between these two diesel-powered LM P1 coupes was only a mere 0.023 seconds.

The major story of the day, though, came from car that will start third in Sunday's race. Stefan Mucke in Charouz Racing System Lola B08/60 Aston Martin edged out the two Audi R10 TDIs, putting the gasoline-powered coupe on the second row. Mucke's 1:40.951 lap time was just 0.027 seconds quicker than the No. 2 Audi Sport Team Joest R10 TDI of Alexandre Premat, in fourth.

"I had hoped for a similar result but even I was surprised by the time," Mucke said. "Already this morning I felt that I am more confident with the brand new car. We were waiting till the end of the qualifying before I went out. The first lap was not ideal, other cars slowed me a bit. However, the second lap was perfect and brought third place to us. I am so happy that I managed to get this result in front of my home fans. Now we will all focus on the race where we should have a chance to fight for a podium finish. However, it will be very tough fight."

Charouz, in conjunction with partner Aston Martin Racing, debuts its brand-new chassis this weekend, and so far it's gone to plan. Mucke and co-driver Jan Charouz have already visited the podium once this season (Barcelona) and will be aiming to make another appearance on Sunday.

"The whole car including engine is new," Team Principal Antonin Charouz said. "Our Tuesday's test at Dijon was marred by bad weather, so we were not sure about the performance of our car but I was confident about its ability and I am happy with Stefan's performance today. We changed strategy a bit and set or time at the very end of the session and our rivals did not have time to react."

Audi Sport Team Joest had to settle for fourth and fifth overall following Charouz's surprising late-session lap. Earlier in the session, Premat aboard the No. 2 R10 TDI found himself in a duel with teammate Dindo Capello in the No. 1 machine. In the end, Premat edged out the Italian veteran by just 0.049 seconds. But both said they could have turned quicker laps if it wasn't for heavy traffic around the 4.137km circuit.

"Unfortunately, I was obstructed by two slower cars at the beginning of the qualifying," Premat explained. "This cost me six, seven tenths. But I'm looking forward to tomorrow: We've got a very good car for the race. From position four we can again make it onto the podium."

Premat and co-driver Mike Rockenfeller are currently tied for the lead in the P1 drivers' championship with Peugeot's Gene and Minassian. With this being the penultimate round of the season, Sunday's race will most likely either make or break Audi's title chances.

Capello and Allan McNish will start fifth on the grid, but are well out of the championship hunt. Unlucky runs and misfortunes have prevented the defending American Le Mans Series champions from possible victories. But a lot of that was made up in June, when the duo and Tom Kristensen teamed to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Now, the focus is back on securing a maiden win for Audi in the Le Mans Series.

"In qualifying I lost seven tenths of a second in the last turn behind a Porsche," Capello said. "That cost us third place on the grid. But the bigger problem is the fact that for two days the front wheels of our car have been locking while braking. We've definitely got to solve this problem before the race."

Jos Verstappen turned an impressive 1:43.608 lap time in his No. 34 Van Merksteijn Motorsport Porsche RS Spyder to grab the LM P2 class pole. The Dutchman, paired this weekend with countryman Jeroen Bleekemolen, was seventh overall, beating a number of notable P1 entries. After their Le Mans class victory, Verstappen and the Peter van Merksteijn-owned team will be looking for their third Series win of the season on Sunday, and a possible clinch of the championship.

The only other team to beat the purple and white RS Spyder this season has been the Team Essex Porsche. The Danish entry of John Nielsen and Casper Elgaard will start second in class following a 1:43.608 lap time in qualifying. Speedy Racing Team Sebah's Lola B08/80 Judd of Andrea Belicchi, Xavier Pompidou and Steve Zacchia rounds out the top-three.

In LM GT1, Tomas Enge claimed the class pole position for Team Modena and Aston Martin. The Czech star ran a 1:52.387 lap time, over 1.172 seconds quicker than the No. 73 Luc Alphand Aventures Corvette C6.R of Olivier Beretta, in second. While only four cars are competing in this category this weekend, all have a shot for the win, which should provide intense competition. Enge and co-driver Antonio Garcia will be looking for their second win of the season.

"I think that our work with thy tires paid off," Enge said. "Even this morning we worked with the tires to try and find the best solution. We bore fruits of or work in the qualifying. The first look at the times suggests that we will dominate our rivals but the race will be long as always and not the easiest one at rburgring. Overtaking is difficult here and it may bring collisions in the fight especially with LMP2 cars. Those prototypes are not faster than us on the straights, so they will try to overtake entering the corners. It this is always tricky with almost 50 cars on the track. We have to keep our speed and also be more cautious than normal."

Beretta, who ended up second quickest, teams with Jerome Policand this weekend in second of the Luc Alphand Corvettes. The French team's No. 72 machine of Luc Alphand, Guillaume Moreau and Patrice Goueslard will roll off third, ahead of the IPB Spartak Lamborghini Murcielago in fourth.

Anthony Beltoise steering the No. 90 Farnbacher Racing Ferrari F430 GT was the man to beat in LM GT2, as he scored the class pole position with a lap time of 1:57.897. The Frenchman and co-drivers Pierre Kaffer and Pierre Ehret will face a tough battle, as a brace of Porsches are lined up behind the Prancing Horse.

The No. 77 Team Felbermayr-Proton 997 GT3 RSR of Alex Davison and Marc Lieb will start second in class, ahead of IMSA Performance Matmut's No. 76 entry for drivers Raymond Narac and Richard Lietz. Don't count out Farnbacher Racing's Porsche entry either, as it won the Monza round in the hands of Richard Westbrook, Lars Erik Nielsen and Allan Simonsen and could prove strong here as well.

Virgo Motorsport's Ferrari of Rob Bell and Gimmi Bruni, which claimed the other two wins this season, didn't set a time in qualifying, as the team continues to rebuild the car after Friday's fire. Bell and Bruni only have a one-point lead in the drivers' standings over Felbermayr-Proton's Davison and Lieb, giving the British team some extra pressure to make the race tomorrow.

The Nurburgring 1000km will take the start at 12:05 p.m. local time on Sunday, and as always, will provide live updates throughout the race.

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