The ORECA Peugeot squad beat the factory cars to claim victory in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
ORECA's first-generation 908 HDi driven by Nicolas Lapierre, Loic Duval and Olivier Panis came out on top in a three-way battle through the final hours of the opening round of the 2011 Intercontinental Le Mans Cup.
Duval crossed the line 31 seconds ahead of Highcroft's HPD ARX-01e and a further 12s ahead of the No. 8 factory Peugeot.
"We didn't expect to be that quick and that lucky today," said Duval. "At the end of the day it is a great achievement for ORECA."
This was the first time ORECA founder Hughes de Chaunac (shown reacting to the win, ABOVE) had brought his French-based team to Sebring since sweeping the GTS podium in 2000 with the factory Dodge Viper program. Saturday's victory was especially popular given the ‘I Love U.S. Racing' stickers on the car, placed , the team boss said, to express his preference for American Le Mans Series rules.
“It's a historic result for us,” de Chaunac said. "It's a race that we built step by step. We finished just in front of the manufacturers. We avoided any mistakes. It was a perfect job from the team and these three drivers. It was not easy because I asked them to be quick and patient. We won because we did not make any mistakes."
The new 908 shared by Franck Montagny, Stephane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy looked well placed for victory until the start of the 10th hour. A lap was lost when the car needed a new nose section and more seconds disappeared when Lamy, who had just taken over the car, spun on his out-lap.
Highcroft driver Pagenaud fought off a late charge from Montagny in the Peugeot to claim a surprise second place for the gasoline-powered HPD. The car, co-driven by David Brabham and Marino Franchitti, did not run for the first time until one week before the race yet remained in the frame throughout the 12 hours.
The two Audi R15+ TDIs, which both needed repairs after on-track incidents, ended up fourth and fifth. The fourth-placed car driven by Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello was the fastest car on the track for much of the final third of the race on the way to making up two of the seven laps lost to repairs earlier on.
The second factory Peugeot, in which Marc Gene had lost time after colliding with Capello, ended up a distant eighth behind the Dyson Racing Lola-Mazda and the Anglo-Swiss Rebellion team's Toyota-engined Lola coupe.
LMP2 honors went to the Level 5 Lola-Honda driven by Luis Diaz, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Tucker. It took over the lead when the Signatech ORECA-Nissan encountered gear selection problems for the second time in the race.
BMW claimed a 1-2 sweep in the GTE class with the M3 driven by Andy Priaulx, Dirk Muller and Joey Hand taking the victory. They triumphed by 37sec over the sister car driven by Augusto Farfus, Dirk Werner and Bill Auberlen, which had to fight back from a delay caused by a puncture with just over a couple of hours to go, finishing 11sec ahead of the best of the Chevrolet Corvettes.
“The car was really good,” said Hand, who set the class' fastest race lap. “When I got in the car Monday, I thought, “This is a great racecar, we are in the sweet spot, we are in the window.' When it is comfy, I can go quick and do it for a long time.”
Milner placed third in the Corvette C6.R that he drove with Olivier Beretta and Antonio Garcia.
Krohn Racing won handily in GTE-Am with its Ferrari F430 GT. Tracy Krohn crossed the checkered flag well ahead of the Proton Competition Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. It marked the team's first victory in the American Le Mans Series and first for drivers Krohn, Nic Jonsson and Michele Rugolo.
Level 5 Motorsports won on its LMP2 class debut with a victory for the entry of team owner Scott Tucker, Luis Diaz and IndyCar racer Ryan Hunter-Reay. The team won at Sebring in LMP Challenge last year and moved up to P2 after taking the LMPC championship in 2010.
“We just got our cars last Saturday. This whole week was a big test session,” said Tucker, who won the LMPC driver's championship last year. “I've got to hand it to Luis and Ryan. We had a small issue and went down a bunch of laps, but these guys pounded it out. It really worked out for us today.”
Hunter-Reay crossed the finish line ahead of the class pole-sitting Signatech Nissan ORECA-Nissan. Both cars had their share of trouble but a trip back to the paddock and penalties in the pitlane doomed the Signatech entry. Class pole-sitter Soheil Ayari, Franck Mailleux and Lucas Ordonez came home second in class. Oak Racing's Pescarolo-Judd of Andrea Barlesi, Frederic Da Rocha and Patrice Lafargue were third in class.
It was the first ALMS victory for Hunter-Reay, and second each for Tucker and Diaz; the latter won in P2 for Lowe's Fernandez Racing and Acura in 2009.
“It's amazing how hard these guys worked. I was watching the guys put the cars together on Saturday. From then until now, the car did a 12-hour race,” said Hunter-Reay. “For me, growing up in Florida, winning Sebring is dream come true. This place is very special to me. This is a big deal for me and the car was a lot of fun to drive. It's a great win for Level 5 and starts the season off right.”
Provisional results: 12 hours/332 laps:
Pos Cl Drivers Team/Car Time/Gap
1. LMP1 Lapierre/Duval/Panis ORECA Peugeot 12h00m28.423s
2. LMP1 Brabham/Franchitti/Pagenaud Highcroft HPD + 31.868s
3. LMP1 Montagny/Sarrazin/Lamy Peugeot + 44.502s
4. LMP1 Capello/Kristensen/McNish Audi + 5 laps
5. LMP1 Bernhard/Dumas/Rockenfeller Audi + 6 laps
6. LMP1 Dyson/Smith/Cochran Dyson Lola-Mazda + 8 laps
7. LMP1 Prost/Jani/Bleekemolen Rebellion Lola-Toyota + 12 laps
8. LMP1 Wurz/Gene/Davidson Peugeot + 17 laps
9. LMPC Petersen/Cameron/Guasch Genoa ORECA + 20 laps
10. GT Priaulx/Muller/Hand BMW + 20 laps
11. LMPC Bennett/Montecalvo/Dalziel Core ORECA + 20 laps
12. GT Farfus/Auberlen/Werner BMW + 20 laps
13. GT Beretta/Milner/Garcia Corvette + 20 laps
14. GT Gavin/Magnussen/Westbrook Corvette + 21 laps
15. GT Fisichella/Bruni/Kaffer AF Corse Ferrari + 21 laps
16. GT Bergmeister/Long/Lieb Flying Lizard Porsche + 22 laps
17. GT Law/Neiman/Holzer Flying Lizard Porsche + 26 laps
18. LMPC Jeannette/Gonzalez/Junco Core ORECA + 27 laps
19. GTE Am Krohn/Jonsson/Rugolo Krohn Ferrari + 30 laps
20. LMP2 Tucker/Hunter-Reay/Diaz Level 5 Lola-Honda + 32 laps
21. GTC Pappas/Faulkner/Bleekemolen Black Swan Porsche + 33 laps
22. GTC Enda/Pumpelly/Li TRG Porsche + 33 laps
23. GTC Cisneros/Kauffmann/Edwards NGT Porsche + 36 laps
24. GTC Ham/Blackett/Cumming JDX Porsche + 37 laps
25. GTC Von Moltke/Ludwig/Norman TRG Porsche + 37 laps
26. GT Robertson/Robertson/Said Robertson Doran Ford + 38 laps
27. LMPC Lux/Julian/Zugel Genoa ORECA + 38 laps
28. GT Ortelli/Mackowiecki/Deletraz Luxury Ferrari + 40 laps
29. GTC LeSaffre/Davis/Faieta Kelly Moss Porsche + 41 laps
30. LMP2 Mailleux/Ordonez/Ayari Signatech ORECA-Nissan + 42 laps
31. LMP2 Barlesi/da Rocha/Lafargue OAK Pescarolo-Judd + 45 laps
32. GTC Potter/Stanton/Marsh Magnus Porsche + 50 laps
33. LMP2 Tucker/Bouchut/Barbosa Level 5 Lola-Honda + 52 laps
34. GTC Sweedler/Keen/Wong Alex Job Porsche + 53 laps
35. GT Brown/Cosmo/Bell Extreme Speed Ferrari + 64 laps*
36. GT Melo/Vilander/Salo Risi Ferrari + 66 laps*
37. GT Murry/Lazzaro/Braun Robertson Doran Ford + 71 laps*
38. GT Jones/Moran/Wilden RSR Jaguar + 76 laps
39. GTE Am Lietz/Roda/Ried Proton Porsche + 80 laps
* Not running at checkered flag
LMPC Nicolosi/Boon/Lueders Performance Tech ORECA 246 laps*
GT Miller/Rast/Maassen Miller Porsche 231 laps
GTE Am Ehret/Lynn/Wills CRS Ferrari 226 laps
LMP1 Lahaye/Moreau/Ragues OAK Pescarolo-Judd 222 laps
GT Henzler/Sellers/Ragginger Falken Porsche 220 laps
LMPC Moro/Mowlem/Lombard WRO ORECA 203 laps
LMPC Dobson/Lewis/Richard PR1 Mathiasen ORECA 185 laps
LMP1 Pickett/Graf/Luhr Muscle Milk Lola-Aston 151 laps
LMP1 Nicolet/Hein/Yvon OAK Pescarolo-Judd 111 laps
GTC Curtis/Sofronas/Seyffarth GMG Porsche 87 laps
LMPC Marcelli/Drissi/Mitchell Intersport ORECA 86 laps
GT Sharp/van Overbeek/Farnbacher Extreme Speed Ferrari 49 laps
GTE Am Bornhauser/Canal/Gardel Larbre Corvette 37 laps
GT Junqueira/da Matta/Servia RSR Jaguar 35 laps*
GT James/Leuenberger Panoz 19 laps
GT Pastorelli/Schwager West Lamborghini 10 laps
GTE Am Giroix/Goethe/Wainwright Gulf Aston Martin 5 laps
* Running again at checkered flag