TeamsTeam Oreca Matmut: 2010 Le Mans Series By Jeremy McMullen
In 2009, Team Oreca Matmut introduced its new petrol-powered chassis, the Oreca 01. This proved to be a front-runner amongst the petrol cars. In 2010, Team Oreca would be given the opportunity to reign supreme in the whole of the Le Mans Series.
In terms of sheer pace, the dominant cars in the Le Mans Series since 2006 has been the diesel-powered LMP1 machines. Among the diesels, undoubtedly the fastest has been Peugeot's 908 HDi FAP. In addition to its fast petrol-powered Oreca 01 chassis, Team Oreca was chosen by Peugeot Sport to run a 2010-spec 908.
In a statement by Peugeot Sport Director Olivier Quesnel, 'We have consequently chosen this team which we believe is the best qualified to defend Peugeot's colours. Team ORECA MATMUT will run a 908 HDi FAP in the 2010 Le Mans Series, as well as in the 2010 Le Mans 24 Hours where its support will be invaluable. I am convinced that our collaboration will be a fruitful one, and that there is every chance it can be extended in the future with the supply of Peugeot engines in 2011.'
The announcement led Team Oreca to focus mostly on just the one Peugeot 908 for the Le Mans Series Championship. The team would enter the petrol-powered Oreca 01 chassis for the longer events, and of course, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The driver line-up for the Team Oreca Peugeot was Olivier Panis, Nicolas Lapierre and Loic Duval. The drivers for the petrol-powered Oreca 01 were Soheil Ayari, Didier Andre and Andy Meyrick
Though virtually identical to the factory Peugeot 908s to be entered in 2010, Team Oreca's example would end up quite different aesthetically. Hugues de Chaunac doesn't strike anybody as a wild and crazy kind of guy, but his cars usually are among the most-flashy. The paint scheme for the team's Peugeot would be no different. In fact, it would end up being an interesting study in what are normally two opposing points-of-view. Modern motor racing is a study in fluid dynamics. In fact, teams will use Computational Fluid Dynamics software to determine flow between one part to another. Abstract art isn't exactly worried about flow between one part and another. However, Hugues de Chaunac wanted the car to have its own visual identity. And so, the car's livery represented an interpretation of the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian, who was a pioneer in abstract art. The real question was whether Team Oreca would be all flash and no show?
The 2010 Le Mans Series began in earnest at Paul Ricard. The first round was the 8 Hours of Castellet. Perhaps somewhat lost, but not forgotten, Oreca entered its other petrol-powered car, the Oreca 01, for the 8 hour race as well.
In 2009, the Oreca 01 was a brand new chassis that didn't make its debut until right before Le Mans. The car was good and proved to be a tough competitor as it finished 5th overall. But, as Technical Director David Floury admitted, 'Last year, we received the new aero kit at Spa and we tested very little before Le Mans.' The team had taken the 2009 season to learn the car and its capabilities. David Floury stated, 'We have progressed well, most notably in our understanding of the car. We are able to get the most out of its potential. Now we know the car very well and we have a solid base to work from.' That greater understanding led Hugues de Chaunac to lay out a very simple directive for its petrol prototype: 'The directions are simple: to be perfectly reliable and not commit the slightest error. Consequently, the goal of the ORECA 01 will be to finish first among the prototypes with petrol engines.'
In qualifying for the first round of the season, Team Oreca looked poised to be first among both the diesel-powered prototypes and the petrol-powered ones. Nicolas Lapierre took the flashy number 4 Oreca-Peugeot and promptly took the pole with a lap a half a second faster than the Audi R15 Plus driven by Rinaldo Capello. The 009 of Aston Martin Racing was able to eek-out the fastest time amongst the petrol-powered cars with a time a little over a second slower than Oreca's Peugeot. The car the Aston Martin edged out was Oreca's 01. Its time was only three tenths slower than the Aston Martin and meant the car would start 4th overall.
At the start of the race, the Oreca-Peugeot and the Audi got tangled in an intense scrap in the first couple of corners. This battle enabled the Aston Martin 009 car to come through into the lead. The petrol-powered Oreca 01 also had its hands full with the other petrol-powered prototypes early on in the race. The race settled down and both Orecas ran in the top-five.
As the race wore on, both Oreca cars suffered from troubles that dropped them down in the order, while the number 7 Audi soldiered on without many issues at all. At the end of the race Audi won by five laps over Aston Martin Racing. Team Oreca couldn't salvage either the overall podium, or, being the fastest of the petrol-powered cars. The team's cars would finish the race 4th and 5th overall. Oreca-Peugeot would finish 4th, eight laps down, and the AIM-powered Oreca 01 finished 5th.
In May, the Le Mans Series headed to Spa-Francorchamps for what was considered a 'full dress rehearsal' for the 24 Hours of Le Mans the following month. For Team Oreca Matmut, it wasn't quite a 'full' dress rehearsal as it only brought its diesel-powered Peugeot chassis to the race.
Unlike Castellet, Oreca had the factory Peugeot team, as well as the full compliment from Audi to contend. Not too surprising, a diesel-powered Peugeot took the pole. Sebastien Bourdais traversed the Ardennes countryside in one minute and fifty-seven seconds. The first of the Audis started 2nd after posting a time over a half second slower. Team Oreca's Peugeot ended up setting the 4th fastest time in qualifying and made it four Peugeots in the top-eight.
Before the race began, events started taking place that would end up testifying as to how the actual race would unfold. During the pace lap the rain started to fall. This left the course with very low levels of grip. This would catch Audi's Andre Lotterer out as he would lose control and tag the tire barriers with the rear of his Audi. Later on, still during the pace lap, Team Oreca's Peugeot spun, but was able to avoid hitting anything. Therefore, the car was able to continue without any problems.
The fight at the top began in earnest. However, because of the conditions it appeared more like a fight carried out on ice, with everyone being sure of footing before trying to strike a blow. Team Oreca was able to overcome its spin during the pace lap and pushed its way into 2nd place during the early running. Then, after only about seventy laps into the race, the Oreca Peugeot was fending off Rebellion Racing's Lola-Aston Martin. The Rebellion driver clearly ran into the side of Panis in the Peugeot climbing the hill at Eau Rouge. This contact sent the Peugeot flying off the track, crashing heavily in the tire barrier and ending the race for Oreca. This was not the final run up to Le Mans the team was looking for.
However, in June, Team Oreca Matmut prepared its two chassis to compete in the 78th running of the famous 24 hour race. The LMP1 category was full. With the inclusion of Team Oreca's entry, Peugeot had four diesel-powered 908s. Audi brought its usual compliment of three R15 Plus chassis. The presence of these seven diesels meant a virtual boxing out of any petrol-powered car in the first seven starting spots for the race.
Sure enough, Team Peugeot qualified one, two and three. Each of the factory Peugeot entries were able to complete a lap of the 8.5 mile circuit in three minutes and twenty seconds or better. Team Oreca Matmut made it four-straight Peugeot 908s when it qualified 4th overall with a lap time of three minutes and twenty-one seconds. Audi then qualified 5th , 6th and 7th.
At the very start of the race, the first three Peugeots pulled away ever so slightly while Team Oreca's Peugeot was embroiled in a first lap duel with Alan McNish in the first of the Audis. Once tire pressures rose, things calmed down. Early on, the Oreca Peugeot slotted into 4th place and stayed there. The second, petrol-powered Oreca 01 chassis settled into a groove also up near the top-ten, chasing the Aston Martins.
Over the course of the race, Circuit de la Sarthe was not kind to any of the home teams. Each of the factory Peugeot's failed to make it to the end of the race due to engine failures. Team Oreca's fears came to fruition toward the last hour of the race when its Peugeot suffered from the same problem and was forced to also retire from the race.
This left Team Oreca's hopes squarely on the shoulders of the lowly petrol-powered Oreca 01. The Oreca 01 would uphold its team's honor and would finish the race. In the end, the Oreca 01 would benefit from all of the Peugeot troubles and would finish the race 4th overall. It would also fulfill Hugues de Chaunac's simple directive of being the best of the petrol-powered machines. In fact, the closest petrol-powered car to the Oreca 01 at the end was the LMP2 Strakka Racing HPD ARX-01c, which finished two laps behind the Oreca entry.
While Le Mans would provide Team Oreca a bright spot with its 01 chassis finishing highest amongst the petrol-powered cars, its overall aim, to compete with the top diesel-powered cars went up in smoke. The team would try and avenge for this at the Le Mans Series' next round, the 1000km of Algarve. They would avenge.
Both Audi and the factory Peugeot team were absent from the endurance test in Portugal. This provided an opportunity for Team Oreca. The opportunity presented them was domination, which they would.
In qualifying, Oreca's number 4 Peugeot would qualify on the pole. This was a good sign for the team, since its entire hopes rested on its Peugeot entry.
The race started in the early evening hours on Saturday and would finish in the very early morning hours on Sunday. Right from the very start, Oreca's Peugeot had control and set the pace. Effectively only battling three other LMP1 entries, the Peugeot 908 had more than enough pace. In the end, Team Oreca would earn its first victory of the season. Its 908 HDi FAP crossed the line having completed 215 laps. The next closest finisher was Rebellion Racing's number 12 Lola. It finished in 2nd, but was five laps down by the end. 3rd place was the Signature-Plus Lola-Aston Martin. It finished a further lap in arrears.
The victory at Algarve enabled Team Oreca Matmut to rise toward the top of the Le Mans Series Championship standings. The absence of Peugeot and Audi helped to make the championship Oreca's to lose.
Two more rounds remained on the season. The first of those was the 1000km of Hungaroring. This was the first time the Le Mans Series ever came to the Hungarian track. The race would end up being historic for many other reasons.
Troubles hit the LMP1 class competitors right from the beginning. At the conclusion of qualifying, an LMP1 prototype was not sitting at the front of the starting grid. The number 43 Strakka Racing HPD LMP2 car took the honor. The best Oreca's Peugeot could do was to start the race from 4th overall.
Thirty-seven cars ended up starting the race. Once again, troubles started to strike the field. A number of cars were out of the race before even halfway. The troubles seemed to center on the LMP1 category. Many of the prototype teams were in and out of the pits for various reasons, besides normal pitstops. Team Oreca would have a truly troublesome run. After the victory at Algarve, the team was doing everything it could to keep their car in the race. Team Oreca would make it to the end but would be the last car still running. The LMP2 Strakka Racing chassis would go on to win the race, followed by five-straight LMP2 category cars. The first LMP1 class car finished 7th overall. Team Oreca finished 31st, 60 laps down. The team just made it before the 70 percent cutoff, which would have given the team a Not Classified finish.
The troubles Team Oreca experienced at Hungaroring led to the championship fight in the LMP1 class tightening up. The team needed to score a good result at the final round to ensure the title would be theirs.
The fifth and final round was the 1000km of Silverstone and took place on the 12th of September. The field included factory Peugeots and Audis and was forty-five cars in total. With the championship within the team's grasp, the second, petrol-powered, 01 chassis was not entered in the race. All of the focus was on the diesel-powered Peugeot 908.
In qualifying, Audi's two cars were able to grab the first two starting spots. Two Peugeots followed in 3rd and 4th. Team Peugeot Total took the 3rd place starting spot and Oreca's Peugeot grabbed 4th.
The 1000km trial would end up being a wonderful experience for Team Oreca and Peugeot. Only 15 laps in, the race took out one of the major players. The number 7 Audi, driven by Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish, was out of the race. This was like adrenaline shot into the Peugeot's veins. Team Peugeot Total ended up taking the win, completing 170 laps. Right there on the same lap was its cousin, the Peugeot 908 of Team Oreca. 3rd was the remaining Audi. The results gave Team Oreca the Le Mans Series title! This was the team's first-ever Le Mans Series title in the LMP1 category!
2010 proved to be an up-and-down year for Team Oreca Matmut, but it ended with a much bigger upside. Despite the number of regulation changes expected for the 2011 season, Team Oreca seems poised to be amongst the Le Mans Series title contenders once again in 2011. This assumption is bolstered by Olivier Quesnel's statements back at the beginning of the 2010 season when Peugeot Sport hinted it may provide Peugeot engines to Team Oreca into the 2011 season. Hugues de Chaunac has and always will be dedicated to victory. If the engine deal comes to fruition, Team Oreca Matmut will once again be one of the favorites for the championship.