BRASELTON — Driver Wolf Henzler was impressed by the throng of racing fans walking the paddocks in windbreakers and galoshes prior to the start of Saturday’s 12th annual Petit Le Mans.
“It’s busy out here for a rainy day,” Henzler said.
Saturday at Road Atlanta was bookended by torrential downpours early in the day and late in the afternoon. The race was finally called after a nearly four-hour rain delay. In between, the fans saw some racing on a breezy, damp, overcast day.
When the green flag fell shortly after 11 a.m., only a fine mist was falling, with Le Mans prototype and GT sports cars kicking up “rooster tails” of rainwater in their wake from the wet asphalt, their headlights reflecting off the track’s slick surface.
“I think it’s kind of cool,” said J.P. Sammoury of Boulder, Colo., who stood on the hood of his car parked just outside the first turn of the 2.5-mile track as he shot video of the first few laps. Sammoury, 24, who came to Road Atlanta with his cousin and 18-year-old brother, didn’t bring along any rain gear.
“I’ll buy a poncho if I need to,” he said.
By 4 p.m., he needed to. Heavy rains and some lightning drove thousands of fans to seek refuge in their cars, in tents, under tarpaulins and in the dry safety of motor homes parked on the infield. Small rivers of rainwater ran through gullies in mud-caked campsites.
“The people who are here today are the die-hard race fans,” said John Taylor of Brevard, N.C.
A forecast that called for a 90 percent chance of rain likely affected whatever walk-up business the track typically enjoys on race day.
Road Atlanta, which says it drew 113,000 to last year’s Petit Le Mans, did not have an official attendance estimate available Saturday.
Those who came saw about five hours of racing before the skies opened and the red flag waved to stop the cars. Though American Le Mans Series cars can run in wet conditions on rain tires, racing is halted if there is standing water on the track. Racing officials made the call to end the race shortly after 8 p.m. when persistent rains made finishing under green impossible.
Before the heavy rains came, Jon Tanner of Atlanta and his friend Matt Tulipan of Tallahassee cooked burgers on a small grill outside their car, parked in a prime spot overlooking the downhill stretch of track that leads into turn 12 and the front straightaway.
They found the parking place just before the race started.
“I like how fan-friendly it is,” Tulipan said. “Short of being a VIP, the access can’t get any better.”
“It’s a great display of horsepower from throughout the world,” Tanner said.
Steve Clark of Dacula brought his sons, ages 4 and 11, to the paddock area prior to the race to meet the drivers as they greeted fans and posed for pictures outside their cars.
“I told them this is the closest you’ll ever get to a race car,” he said.
Clark said “it would have been nice” to have the weather of a few days earlier.
“Regardless, we’re going to have a great day,” he said.