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Petit Le Mans ready to run at Road Atlanta

POSTED: September 25, 2010 9:06 p.m.
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The 13th annual running of the Petit Le Mans is Saturday at Road Atlanta in Braselton.

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BRASELTON — If you are a race fan, then the next week at Road Atlanta is built just for you.

The 13th annual Petit Le Mans will be held Saturday in Braselton, but the action kicks off Wednesday and won’t let up until the final flag falls Saturday evening.

Based on the world-famous 24 Hours of Le Mans race which occurs each June in the small French town of Le Mans, the Petit Le Mans is 10 hours or 1,000 miles, whichever comes first, and features four separate racing classes.

Each class will be on the track at the same time for the main event on Saturday, meaning that 45 cars will be making their way through the curves and elevation changes of Road Atlanta at speeds varying from 160 miles per hour to almost 200.

The American Le Mans Series began in 1999 at Sebring International Raceway. Eleven years and 109 races later, the Series’ headline event is now the Petit Le Mans.

The final race of the American Le Mans Series season, the Petit Le Mans features the world’s premier auto manufacturers, including Porsche, Audi, Ferrari and BMW, to name just a few, in a grueling endurance test that features two to three drivers per car. For the first time in the Series’ history, all four class championships will be decided Saturday.

According to Geoff Lee, president of Road Atlanta, the event usually draws more than 100,000 fans and brings more than $50 million of income to the local area.

With numbers like those, it is no wonder the main goal of Lee and his staff is to insure that everyone who comes to the race has a good time.

And wants to come back next year.

“We want to give a good experience to our fans,” Lee said. “It was the Petit Le Mans that first started the Gridwalk, which allows the fans to go down with the race cars and with the drivers for the beginning of the race.

“They can actually be out on the race track just moments before the cars go hot.”

In addition to the Gridwalk, the facility offers Car Corrals, which allow fans of a particular car manufacturer a place to gather, venders, camping, infield parking and more. All geared toward making the event as viewer friendly as possible.

“People come up to me all the time and say ‘what fun,’” Lee said. “When you see that many people in one place, it’s really phenomenal.”

Scott Atherton, president and CEO of the American Le Mans Series, believes one of the reasons that the Petit Le Mans is so popular with the local fans is the ability to see actual production cars on the track.

In other racing series, such as NASCAR or Formula One, the cars competing on the track are not the cars that can be found in dealer showrooms.

That is not the case with the cars at this race.

The two GT classes feature cars that come off the same assembly line as the ones available for sale to the private sector. Those cars are then slightly modified — most of these modifications are safety issues — and then put on the track to race.

“These are vehicles that people can identify with,” Atherton said. “That’s why we are gaining manufacture involvement when other series are losing them.”

In the days leading up to the Petit Le Mans, Road Atlanta will hold 10 different races, beginning with the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Race at 1 p.m. Thursday. But practice for the event is open to the public starting at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning. Tickets for all four days cost $85 and for two days costs $75. The main race is set to begin at 11:15 a.m. Saturday morning and costs $65



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