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Roar of engines thrills Petit Le Mans fans
Fans from around world attend event
Team Audi crew members take their place on the track for the playing of the national anthem on Saturday morning prior to the start of the 14th annual Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.

With bright blue skies and cool temperatures, fans packed the stands and lined the fences Saturday for the annual Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in Braselton.

Jim Jennings of Hendersonville, Tenn., said he attended the race in 2010, and Saturday's fan numbers exceeded the amount from that race.

"Last year was our first trip and we had a fantastic time and decided we would make it an annual event," Jennings said. "It does appear that this year there are a lot more people than there were last year."

He jokingly said events like Le Mans could be the solution to the country's economic woes.

"Hopefully racing can turn our economy around," Jennings said.

While Jennings may have been facetious in his remark, Saturday's event does have a huge impact on the area's economy.

More than 100,000 people were expected to attend various events throughout the four days of racing at the track, bringing an estimated $40 million to $60 million to the area, said Geoff Lee, president of Road Atlanta.

Fans not only from the state, but throughout the world were in attendance to view the 10-hour or 1,000-mile race.

Jake Parrott came from Maine with a friend who won a charity auction through Corvette Racing. He brought along his toddler son.

"We all club race with (the Sports Car Club of America) and (the National Auto Sport Association)," Parrott said. "My son loves cars and stuff, so I brought him on down."
Jennings was also excited to see new technologies being introduced at the race that he believes will soon become commonplace on the roadways in the near future.

"We're going to see a lot of technology put to use out here today," he said. "One of the newest things this year is regenerative brake technology, so this is a proving ground for what we're going to drive in the next couple years."

Regenerative brakes are currently equipped primarily in hybrid vehicles or fully electric cars, but are now being developed for other road vehicles. The brakes slow the vehicle by converting its kinetic energy into another form, which can be used immediately or stored for future use.

Other spectators weren't as focused on the technology aspect and were just hoping to see a good race.

Spectators enjoyed the roar of the engines as the 58 car lineup sped around the 2.54-mile, 12-turn course. Others were excited to get a glance at the different cars involved in the race.

Carl Noble came from Toronto to see the race and said he follows the Le Mans series closely. He was excited to see the premiere of the Audi R-18 in North America.

"That's why I'm here is to see it race," Noble said. "I expect to see the R-18 dominate."

The R-18 debuted in Ingolstadt, Germany, in 2010, but had not raced in North America until Saturday.

Bruce Haines from Park City, Utah, said he has come to three Petit Le Mans races at Road Atlanta since they began in 1998.

"It's a breath of competition. This is true sports car racing," Haines said. "These are real cars."

While some spectators were veterans of Road Atlanta and the Le Mans series, others were new to the sport and even racing.

"This is my first race ever," said Carol Herring, who traveled to the race with her husband from Tennessee.

"Any kind of car race. I've been here since Thursday and it's been phenomenal. I've never been that interested in racing, but having all these different types of cars on the track at the same time is really thrilling to me."

Cars were split into five categories for the race based on various characteristics. Models participating included BMW, Porsche, Peugeot, Ferrari and Audi.

Prior to the start of the race, fans were permitted to enter the course and view the cars close up.

"We were down in pit row when they did their warm-up and that was really cool because we were right there at them when they started up," said Tom Daniel of Atlanta, who attended for his 65th birthday.

Ben Teal, 13, came with his dad from Greer, N.C., near Greenville, but was a racing rookie.

"I don't know much about racing, but I think it's going to be fun," he said.

Some local fans who decided to make the short drive to the Braselton track.

Mike Lyons of Cleveland said he decided to attend for the first time because a friend came from Florida to stay with him and visit the track.

"It's something new to me," he said. "I've never been to races before."