- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 13, 2009

LE MANS, FRANCE (AP) - Peugeot held the top two spots after eight hours of the Le Mans endurance race on Saturday.

The French manufacturer hopes to snap Audi’s five-year winning streak at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Marc Gene’s Peugeot No. 9 was leading Sebastien Bourdais’ Peugeot No. 8 by one lap after 133 laps. Defending champion Tom Kristensen’s Audi No. 1 was third, 34 seconds behind Bourdais.

The Peugeot No. 8 led from the start until the sixth hour when a transmission problem forced Formula One driver Bourdais to pit and change the left rear axle. Gene’s co-driver, Alexander Wurz, took advantage of Bourdais’ lengthy pit stop to hit the front.

Audi’s bid for a sixth straight victory was dented in the seventh hour when Lucas Luhr’s Audi No. 2, running third, smashed into the tire barrier and he had to retire.

Audi’s hopes rest on Kristensen, the most successful driver in the race’s history with eight victories, as the Audi No. 3 driven by Romain Dumas was in 48th place, 41 laps behind Gene, and virtually out of contention.

Audi and Peugeot had their share of problems in the opening hours.

Alexandre Premat’s Audi No. 3 veered off the track on the third lap into the gravel bed.

Then, Pedro Lamy lost 24 minutes for repairs after his Peugeot No. 7 collided in the pitlane with Jean-Christophe Boullion’s Pescarolo No. 17 in the first hour. But Nicolas Minassian, Lamy’s co-driver, clocked the fastest lap in 3 minutes, 24.628 seconds on the 8.5-mile circuit to climb back into 11th place, six laps behind Gene.

Kristensen’s co-driver, Allan McNish, also wasted time in the pits after damaging his nosecone in the second hour.

“We were a bit unsettled during the first part of the race,” said Rinaldo Capello, Kristensen’s co-driver. “The car was understeering badly. We tried to increase the pace of the car compared to the beginning of the race and the nosecone change really helped us.”

McNish put pressure on the pole-sitting Peugeot No. 8 in the rolling start, but Franck Montagny held off the charge at the first curve to keep the lead.

A total of 55 cars started the 77th edition, which will end on Sunday at 9 a.m. EDT. Each car has three drivers.

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