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Petit Le Mans features some of world's top racers
1002PetitLeMans
Wolf Henzler (17), of Germany, leads Matteo Malucelli (62), of Italy, during the American Le Mans Series' Petit Le Mans auto race in 2013 at Road Atlanta in Braselton. - photo by Rainier Ehrhardt

Petit Le Mans

What: The inaugural TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup season finale, 10 hours or 1,000 miles

When: 11:15 a.m. Saturday, with multiple events held Friday

Where: Road Atlanta, 5300 Winder Highway, Braselton

Cost: A one-day superticket is $70 at the gate. Kids ages 12 and under get in free. Other ticketing options are available.

More info: www.roadatlanta.com

The lineup of drivers for this weekend’s Petit Le Mans reads like a who’s who of the racing world.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, this year’s Indy 500 winner, and Scott Dixon, a three-time IndyCar champion and 2008 Indy 500 victor, are set to race in the 17th annual event at Road Atlanta in Braselton this Saturday.

Among the others on hand will be five-time GrandAm Rolex Sports Car Series champion Scott Pruett and Christian Fittipaldi, part of this year’s winning team of the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Plus, racer and “Grey’s Anatomy” star Patrick Dempsey and NASCAR drivers Max Papis and Boris Said will be at the Petit Le Mans.

Road Atlanta president and general manager Geoff Lee said the 2.54-mile road course is fortunate to have top international drivers flooding the area this weekend for the sports car races.

“The other stars here are the cars,” Lee said.

Indeed, it’s not every day you get to see Porsches, Corvettes, Lamborghinis and Mazdas fighting for racing position on a road course.

The week’s action kicked off with practice and qualifying Wednesday and continues Thursday with a mix of qualifying, practices and races. More races will be held Friday. Everything culminates with the Petit Le Mans, Saturday’s 10-hour final race of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship series that begins at 11:15 a.m. that day.

The first-year Tudor series is a merging of the previous American Le Mans Series and the GrandAm Rolex Sports Car Series. Among the TUDOR races Saturday are Prototype, Prototype Challenge, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona. All of the points races in those four divisions are coming down to the wire.

Another interesting twist is that the coveted Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Challenge title is still up for grabs. Fittipaldi and Portuguese driver Joao Barbosa each have 31 points to lead that chase for now. It encompasses a driver’s performance at Daytona’s Rolex 24, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in Florida and the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen at Watkins Glen, N.Y., plus the Petit Le Mans.

“Our fans are going to see some knockdown, drag-out racing on Saturday,” Lee said.

Lee noted that a particularly fun dynamic is the four main races unfolding during the Petit Le Mans overlapping. He said the GT Daytona cars are the “slowest,” topping out around 160 mph, and can be lapped by the Prototype cars.

It’s all a delicate balancing act as cars race others in their own division hard while trying not to affect the other races unfolding.

“There’s a lot of passing, a lot of racing and a lot of cars on the track at the same time,” Lee said. “It makes it a lot of fun for the fans.”

Another element that adds to the atmosphere is fans with general admission tickets are able to participate in an open grid walk right before the race. As the cars are lined up and drivers are getting in their cars, fans can wish their favorites luck on the track.

An autograph session will be held from 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Friday, when drivers will be behind their haulers and available to sign.

Kids ages 12 and under receive free admission to the event. Lee said the ability to move around the track to get different views helps parents and children have variety.

Lee is grateful that Road Atlanta, with its hills and fast turns, gets to play host to an event with “iconic status in the world of sports car racing.”

“It’s fun because a lot of our local, regional people here don’t realize the jewel they have here in their back yard,” Lee said.

With plenty of points battles unfolding, there’s an unpredictable nature to what could unfold during the racing. But Lee sees one certainty.

“Fans of sports car racing, they will not be disappointed the next few days,” Lee said.

See a full schedule of this week’s events at Road Atlanta at http://bit.ly/2014PetitLeMansSchedule.

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