Going into the 2009 Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, the Audi car company had emerged eight straight years as the overall champion.
That streak was ended as heavy rains invaded the Braselton area. During a caution, as he followed the pace car, Audi’s Alan McNish spun his tires in deep water. He was unable to make up the resulting lost ground before the rain increased and forced the race to be cancelled.
Franck Montagny and Stephane Sarrazin took full advantaage and handed Peugeot its first win in the American Le Mans Series, as well as a first- and second-place finish for the manufacturer overall.
Audi and Peugeot are considered to be the two best sports car teams in the world and the two go head-to-head every year at what is arguably the world’s most famous car race: the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This year in that race, Audi swept the podium while Peugeot, after winning the event in 2009, slowly fell into the back of the field due to mechanical issues.
Despite last year’s loss in the Petit Le Mans, Audi has won three of the four races in the ALMS when the Peugeot team has been in the field.
Audi hasn’t competed on North American soil this year — its last full season came in 2008 — while Peugeot has already claimed a 2010 ALMS victory at Sebring.
But there will be more up for grabs today than the pride of the two teams and an ALMS victory.
The Intercontinental Le Mans Cup championship, which features three Le Mans races on three different continents, is in its inaugural season and neither Audi nor Peugeot has yet claimed the title.
Tonight’s winner at Road Atlanta will win the Cup.
Audi’s Marcel Fassler, who will be driving the No. 9 Audi R15 TDI, believes the high degree of competition is what makes the Le Mans races so important to the rivalry.
“Because it is the top class, the challenge is always to win,” Fassler said. “With two strong teams and two strong manufacturers, one will win and one will lose.”
Fassler also spoke of the inter-team competition that takes place in the race. Both Audi and Peugeot will have two cars on the track today. In qualifying Friday, Peugeot swept the top two spots with Audi coming through for third and fourth.
“We hope (Audi) are the winners,” Fassler said. “The No. 9 car would be better.”
Stephane Sarrazin, who will be driving the Peugeot 908 DHi FAP at Road Atlanta, hopes that his team can earn a win Saturday, but under different conditions that last year.
“I like this track a lot and I think the whole team does. I have never had a race like we had last year, but it was a good time because we won,” Sarrazin said. “We would like to win it again, but have it not be so wet this time.”
As far as the direct competition with Audi, Sarrazin said much the same thing as his rival.
“(The rivalry with Audi) is the same challenge as before. It is just one more race,” Sarrazin said. “We always want to be in front of the Audis and finish the race there.”
McNish, who is one of only two drivers to win the Petit Le Mans three consecutive years (2006-2008) and will pilot the No. 7 Audi R15 TDI, believes that the two teams are dead even going into the race.
“We are very much aware that we have improved, but they have too,” McNish said.
Despite all that is at stake in the Petit Le Mans, McNish doesn’t think Audi or Peugeot will be benefit the most from the race.
“The biggest winners from a racing perspective are the fans,” McNish said. “They have seen three years of spectacular racing and I don’t see any reason why that will not be the case this year.”