Petit Le Mans
What: American Le Mans Series event, 10 hours or 1,000 miles
When: 11:30 a.m. today
Where: Road Atlanta, 5300 Winder Highway, Braselton
How much: $70 at gate
TV: 11 a.m., Fox Sports 2 (cable, satellite); tape replay, 4 p.m. Sunday, Fox Sports 1
Contact info: www.alms.com, www.roadatlanta.com
Thousands of visitors are expected in Hall County this weekend for the 16th annual Petit Le Mans road race.
This final race of the American Le Mans series is set for today at Road Atlanta in Braselton.
For the region, it’s the “perfect economic storm,” according to Geoff Lee, president and general manager of Road Atlanta.
“People come in here, they shop in the stores. They stay in the hotels. They eat in the restaurants. They leave their taxes and their money, and they go away,” said Lee with a laugh. “It is a great way to get people in.”
More than 100,000 fans are expected this weekend. Lee said he thinks this year’s event may set a new attendance record. The previous high was around 130,000, set two years ago.
There were people in the area from 37 states and 19 countries at last year’s event, according to Lee.
“It has an immense economic impact because an event like this will fill hotels all the way down to basically Buckhead,” he said. “All the local restaurants in Gainesville and the surrounding area will get some extra business.”
Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kit Dunlap agreed.
“If you account 150,000 people coming in over an extended weekend and filling up all your hotel rooms — which I understand are pretty much full — and out standing in restaurants and going to shops, I think the economic impact is extraordinary,” Dunlap said. “It’s one of the biggest, or it may be the biggest, tourism event ... that we have.”
She said that she heard people were trying to book hotel rooms for unrelated reasons and having trouble.
“They can’t find a hotel room,” she said. “I would think this is the biggest weekend they have for hotels and motels.”
According to information released from Road Atlanta, the venue ranks second only to Lake Lanier in Hall County tourism economic impact studies. In 2005, Road Atlanta’s economic impact was $53.5 million.
Lee said there is the added bonus of the race being shown on television, featuring the area to a wider audience. The race will be shown live on Fox Sports 2, and taped to show Sunday on Fox Sports 1.
After this year, the American Le Mans Series will merge with the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series to form the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. The new series will close out its season annually at Road Atlanta beginning in 2014.
“There are a lot of fans that have come out for this year’s event because it’s the last one in the American Le Mans series,” said Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau. “So we have fans that haven’t been here for years to Petit that have come back. It’s sort of nostalgia, memory lane if you will.
“It’s the end of an era, and the beginning of a new era,” she added.