Olivier Panis used all of his years of experience and guile to stun the factory opposition and dominate the first practice session for the Spa-Francorchamps 1000km in the sole privateer ORECA Peugeot.
The Belgian round of the Le Mans Series is the first time that all three of the major front-runners, Peugeot Sport, Audi Team Joest and ORECA go head-to-head in 2010, and right from the off there have been surprises.
The French former Formula 1 driver put the multi-coloured Peugeot 908 HDi FAP more than 2.5s clear of the nearest factory version – driven by Anthony Davidson – with a lap of 2m14.068s in typically changeable Ardennes conditions.
Having begun wet, the session became all about who could best release grip and potential from a drying track and the last 10 minutes were all Panis, who initially shot to the top of the times with a 2m16.198s.
It looked as if the factory Pugs would push him aside, as first Davidson thumped in a 2m16.673s then Simon Pagenaud in the #3 908 HDi went third with a 2m17.350s.
That of course was before Panis produced his 2m14s on the final lap of the hour, putting the matter beyond any doubt.
A combination of opportunistic driving and a slick surface allowed Jean-Christophe Boullion to get among the diesels in the Rebellion Lola in fourth, while Olivier Pla was a quite stunning fifth in the LMP2 Quifel Ginetta.
Nicolas Prost was sixth in the second Rebellion machine.
Indeed you had to look down as far as seventh for the next diesel, the third Peugeot being driven by Stephane Sarrazin who headed the trio of Audi R15 TDI Plus’s – which seemingly are still early in their set-up cycle. Tom Kristensen, Roman Dumas and Marcel Fassler completed the top 10 in the German cars.
Allan Simonsen was fastest in GT2 in the Farnbacher Ferrari 430 GT, faster by 1.8s than the fastest GT1 entry – Julien Jousse in the Luc Alphand Avantures Corvette.