David Brabham proudly took a place in the annals of Le Mans 24 Hours history with his first overall race and LMP1 victory, finally gifting Team Peugeot Total the coveted spoils on home soil and ending an era of Audi domination at Le Mans.
The Australian finally achieved his dream of taking the laurels at Le Mans, sealing a hat trick of different class wins in the process. Brabham’s teaming with Peugeot Sport, with the full backing of his Patrón Highcroft,was his first shot at race glory since 2003 with Bentley when he finished 2nd.
First 16 years after older brother Geoff took Peugeot to victory lane in 1993 David was once again teamed with Marc Gene and Alexander Wurz. The trio drove faultlessly, turning their fifth place on the grid in to the race lead after just over five hours and 50 minutes. A position they refused to relinquish for the rest of the race, accept through the course of the odd pit stop.
The 77th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours saw David against his old sparring partner Alan McNish their careers have been intertwined since the 1980s and the days of Formula Vauxhall Lotus. The pair fiercely fought for the British F3 title in 1989 before they carved their respective sportscar careers and resurrected their youthful battles. Unsurprisingly the two drivers remain good friends and McNish was one of the first to congratulate Brabham on his win.
Fresh from the podium champagne celebrations, Brabham commented: “I think it might take a few days for this to sink in. It’s all quite unbelievable. What can I say? I am delighted that we could take the win for the team who have done a magnificent job. We had a faultless race, as I’ve had for the past two years with Aston Martin Racing. There’s been a lot of pressure on Peugeot and they’ve stepped up to the plate and delivered, it’s fantastic.
The No. 9 Team Peugeot Total made a solid start in the hands of Wurz to maintain fifth and charge up to third within the first four minutes. Wurz made his second pit stop under the first safety car, caused by debris on the track left by the No. 7 Peugeot’s puncture, to make an early handover to Gene.
Gene climbed through the front runners from fifth to third before passing Mike Rockenfeller in the No. 2 Audi for second, to trail the leading No 8 Peugeot of Franck Montagny by just over one minute and 50 seconds.
Brabham jumped in to the hot seat approaching the three hour mark and joined the race in second, nearly three minutes down on the sister Peugeot. Clocking consistent lap times throughout his double stint on the same set of tyres, Brabham kept a constant gap of one lap to Stephane Sarrazin in the No. 8 Peugeot approaching the five hour marker. The second safety car period presented an obvious opportunity to switch drivers and Wurz took over from Brabham.
As daylight began to fade over the historic French circuit, a series of events ignited the race battle. Sebastien Bourdais in the No 8 Peugeot lost 10 minutes in the garage and then Lucas Luhr suffered a heavy off that would retire the No. 2 Audi while the No 3 Audi endured several trips to the pits.
Wurz charged in to the lead after five hours and 50 minutes to pull out a 43 second gap over the No. 1 Audi as the seventh hour approached. By the time Wurz switched with Gene an hour later that gap had doubled, with the No. 8 car now recovered to second place.
Brabham was back in the car as the 10th hour approached and holding a one lap lead over the No. 1 Audi now in the hands of Alan McNish. As darkness fell about the La Sarthe circuit and the 11th racing hour dawned, Brabham and McNish simultaneously picked up the race pace. The pair lapped consistently in the 3’28-3’29 bracket for much of the next hour but Brabham kept McNish at bay and retained the margin.
Brabham pit after a triple stint and Wurz took up the leading mantle nearing the 12th hour. At half distance the No. 9 Peugeot had completed 196 laps and continued to lead McNish with the No. 8 Peugeot third, just a few seconds adrift of the Audi.
Gene joined the fray with around 12 hours and 30 minutes of racing complete still with a one-lap buffer to the No. 8 Peugeot which had jumped the Audi. The safety car and medical support crews were scrambled at the 14th hour following Benoit Treluyer’s sizeable accident in the No. 17 Pescarolo Peugeot from which he thankfully emerged unhurt.
The 45-minute safety car period cut the No. 9 car’s lead down to 90 seconds until racing resumed and Gene increased that gap by over a minute with nine hours to go. A further 30 minute safety car period just 15 minutes later sliced the leading Peugeot’s advantage once again.
Arguably the most experienced Le Mans driver in the field, Brabham took the wheel of the 908 HDi FAP again at 7am. Although Montagny in the second placed sister Peugeot closed a little on the race veteran, Brabham held station just over 90 seconds up the track.
With another triple stint in the bag and over 18 hours of racing complete, Brabham took the No. 9 Peugeot in to its 13th hour in the lead before handing over to Wurz.
Team Peugeot Total took the opportunity to re-fuel and change the rear deck on the No. 9 car with minimal delay during a further safety car period barely 30 minutes later. As the final five hours came in to sight, Wurz led Sarrazin by nearly one minute and 50 seconds.
And so the healthy margin remained as the race approached the final hour which wasn’t without drama - there was time for one more safety car. The field was finally released for the last 40 minutes of racing but with a one lap advantage, bar any technical gremlins, the No. 9 car seemed unreachable.
The trio of Team Peugeot Total cars formed to lap line astern around the 8.4 mile circuit for the closing laps before Bourdais and Nicolas Minassian flanked Gene on his final run to the line and the chequered flag.
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