BRASELTON — This year’s running of the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta had all the makings of being one of the most memorable in the race’s 13-year history, and it didn’t disappoint.
With 1,000 miles completed in just nine hours and 28 minutes — after a rain shortened affair last year — championships were decided, surprises arose and questions were answered.
Headlining the multi-class race was the battle in the LMP1 class between rival racing teams Peugeot and Audi.
This was the first time the two historic racing teams have met on American soil this year. Although Audi swept the podium this year for the largest Le Mans race in the world —the 24 Hours of Le Mans at 24 Heures Du Mans in Le Mans France — Peugeot was able to get some payback over Audi at Road Atlanta, winning the cornerstone event in the American Le Mans Series.
The Peugeot driving team of Pedro Lamy, Frank Montagny and Stephane Sarrazin took the checkered flag in their 908 HDI FAP.
“We had a good week and knew the car and we just went out and had fun,” said Montagny, who started on the pole for Peugeot. “It was just a question of time, and we had to trust our team and our crew and we got it done.”
The other Peugeot team of Marc Gene, Alexander Wurz and Anthony Davidson finished second, followed by the Audi R15 team of Renaldo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish.
Perhaps the most competitive of the classes in this year’s race was the GT2 class. For the better part of the first half of the race, it was a neck and neck battle between Ferrari and Chevrolet for the top two positions in
GT2, but the field opened up in the second half when BMW and Porsche got in the mix.
Chevrolet picked up its first Series win in dramatic fashion as it took the lead in the final lap when the previous leader, Dominik Farnbacher and the Ferrari 430 GT ran out of gas on the last stretch. Oliver Gavin took the checkered for Corvette ZR1 teammates Jan Magnussen and Emmanuel Collard after 355 laps.
“Everyone was expecting us to finish second and when we saw Gavin’s name pop up in the pit area, all hell broke loose,” said Magnussen. “It was nice that luck finally went our way.”
Gavin, who wasn’t sure if he had won for his class until he crossed the finish line, said that the win was much needed.
“We’ve had a really tough year, but we have never given up and everyone at Corvette racing believed in each other and this is just a great win for our whole team,” said Gavin.
The Chevrolet win gave BMW the GT2 Manufacturers Championship for the season over Ferrari.
Local driver Andy Lally from Dacula helped bring home the win for his Porsche 911 GT3 Cup team in the GTC class.
“I live 12 miles from here and I feel like I never drive here,” Lally said. “I have a great team here and a great crew. It feels great to get this victory,” he added.
The Oreca FLM09 No. 95 team of Scott Tucker, Christophe Bouchut and Marco Werner had a great showing, winning the LMPC class well in front of the next same-class car — the other Oreca FLM09 team of Ricardo
Gonzolez and Luis Diaz. Tucker won the driving title with the win.
The Patron Highcroft team of David Brabham, Simon Pagenaud and Marino Franchitti took home the win and the championship for the LMP2 class.
“The race car was just like a videogame to drive,” Pagenaud said. “It’s great to be a champion. There’s a lot of emotion going on right now so it’s hard to explain. It’s just great to be here and (to be) celebrating a championship.”
Another highlight this year was the performance of the Porsche GT3 R Hybrid.
The revolutionary “green” race car — which uses two electric motors to support a flywheel powered combustion engine — made its North American racing debut Saturday.
The team got off to a rough start, suffering two flat tires early in the race, causing them to take two early and unscheduled pit stops. Both flats occurred in the front left tire.
The team got things together however and managed to finish 18th overall after taking a 25th qualifying finish Friday. It managed to finish in the middle of the pack of GT2 cars — the class closest to the hybrid’s type.
Because of hybrid technologies, the car uses less fuel, causing fewer pit stops. Despite the two early stops due to flats, the Porsche Hybrid — which raced in its own classification (GTH) — only made nine other trips to the pits during the race.
According to American Le Mans President and CEO Scott Atherton, this kind of technology is the “future of racing.”
The Petit Le Mans concludes the 2010 American Le Mans Series. The 2011 Series will begin as it does every year in Sebring, Fla.