Petit Le Mans
What: The 16th annual Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta
Where: Road Atlanta, Braselton
When: 11:30 a.m., Saturday
The American Le Mans Series returns to Hall County for one final visit this weekend.
The series will run its final race at Road Atlanta in Braselton on Saturday before it merges with another premier racing series.
The three-day weekend filled with practice, qualifying sessions, lower-level races and the 10-hour endurance race on Saturday will bring in an estimated record crowd to the track.
Following this weekend, the American Le Mans Series will merge with the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series to form the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, which will close out its seasons with an annual visit to Road Atlanta.
“It is the last chance fans have to come out and see the Prototype 1 (P1) cars,” said Road Atlanta President and General Manager Geoff Lee.
“There will be a new series with us in 2014 and beyond, the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, which will have many of the same cars, but it will be different. And since we’ve had such a long relationship with Petit Le Mans Series, it is a joyous time and a little bit melancholy at the same moment.”
The series begins its final visit to the twists and turns of Road Atlanta in Braselton on Thursday, when competitors for the performance race begin two days of practice and qualifying.
The sessions lead up to the dropping of the green flag of the 16th Annual Petit Le Mans Powered by Mazda at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday. The race will feature many of the best road-course drivers from North America and Europe.
The annual event at Road Atlanta, a 2.54-mile road circuit track that features 12 turns, is the American Le Mans Series’ biggest event, and features five classes of racing.
The classifications include P1, P2, GT, Prototype Challenge and GT Challenge, all of which produce different champions, leading to position and points battles among each classification throughout the length of the race.
Heading into this weekend’s series finale, three of the five classifications have undetermined champions and there is a tie for first place in the Prototype Challenge class.
“There is going to be a lot of fun,” Lee said. “Even in the P1 championship, which has already been won by team Muscle Milk (Pickett Racing), the team that won it last year, team Rebellion (Racing), has come back from Europe just to give Muscle Milk a hard time. They’re not competing for a championship, but they’re competing because Petit Le Mans being one of the most prestigious races of the year.”
One race team many fans will have an eye on this weekend will be the team of famous actor and racer Patrick Dempsey, most commonly known for his role on the hit show “Grey’s Anatomy” where he portrays an emergency room doctor.
Dempsey, who made his professional racing debut last year at Road Atlanta and has since driven in prestigious events like the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Rolex 24 at Daytona, is the owner of a pair of Porsche racing teams.
Dempsey will be behind the wheel, though, of the No. 27 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car on Saturday, splitting his time with Georgia natives Andy Lally and Joe Foster.
Dempsey Racing currently sits in sixth place in the GTC class, but has the potential to finish fourth with a strong finish this weekend.
In the GTC class, three teams have a chance to secure the championship. Flying Lizard Motorsports leads Alex Job Racing by a mere two points, with NGT Motorsport in third, just 15 points off the lead.
Fans looking to catch of glimpse of Dempsey and the rest of the drivers can get and up-close and personal look at the autograph session between noon and 12:45 p.m. on Friday or by walking up to the driver’s respective trailer throughout the weekend.
Dempsey and fellow drivers will also be on the track prior to the race on Saturday when pit road is open to spectators.
“One of the nice things at Petit Le Mans is that we let fans get right down in the action with your standard ticket,” Lee said. “You don’t have to have a note from the president to get into the paddock like you have to at other tracks.
“Your standard general admission ticket will get you all the way into the paddock where you can talk with the crew chief, meet the drivers, get autographs.
“You can’t go down and sit in the dugout with the Braves, but here you can literally be right down where they’re working on the cars.”
Along with Saturday’s endurance race, three other races will be held this weekend: The Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama, Cooper Tires Protoype Lites powered by Mazda and the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup.
A full schedule of the weekend’s events can be found by visiting www.alms.com.