BRASELTON — The beautiful thing about Petit Le Mans is that every lap is important. Tommy Milner saw that first-hand as his new teammates from Corvette edged out Ferrari on the final lap of the 2010 race in the GT class at Road Atlanta.
Milner, who was driving for BMW last season, remembers vividly when the Corvette edged out the Ferrari that ran out of gas on the last lap and overtook the lead for its eighth win at Petit Le Mans. It made for a memorable finish for the 125,000 fans who attended last year’s installment. It also left fans wondering what kind of finish could be in store for today’s return for the 14th running of Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
“Fans can expect non-stop action at Petit Le Mans,” said Milner, from Leesburg, Va. “You can just pick a corner of the track to watch the race and stay entertained all day long.”
Today’s season wrap-up race of the American Le Mans Series at Road Atlanta, which is the first of 1,000 miles or 10 hours, doesn’t have a part that isn’t critical to drivers on this 12-turn, 2-1/2 mile course in South Hall.
A slow start and it’s hard to catch up, as passing room is hard to come by in the 53-car field. Drivers will be competing for titles in five classifications with GT (Grand Touring), GTC, LMP (Le Mans Prototype), LMP-2 and LMPC. LMPC driver Gunnar Jeannette compares Petit Le Mans to driving through a high-speed rush hour.
“This is the best sports car teams and manufacturers in the world,” Milner added.
Road Atlanta has quite a reputation of its own among drivers looking to make the podium at the end of the night. They know that driving at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour, they have to respect all the different angles and turns that the track throws at them. With a shorter track than some of the others on the ALMS circuit, it makes for a constant string of traffic all the way through. Milner says just as much driving is done looking back through the mirrors as looking straight ahead.
“Road Atlanta is a track with a lot of character,” said Jeannatte, who drives for CORE Autosport. “It’s a very challenging course, but very rewarding to the drivers.”
Jeannette has as much as anyone else on the line. He is currently sitting in second place in the LMPC, just three points back of Erik Lux. He knows it’s all or nothing at Road Atlanta.
“There’s nothing like it to have it all come down to the final race of the season,” Jeannette said.
Championships in four of the five classes are still up for grabs. Tim Pappas has already earned the championship in the GTC class. However, the title is still up for grabs and will be decided in the GT, LMP-1, LMP-2 and LMP-C. Those out of championship contention can still improve their final standing in many instances with a strong running at Road Atlanta.
Some fans come to Petit Le Mans just to take in the fine workmanship of the leading sports car designers with vehicles representing Audi, Corvette, Ferrari, Lotus, Peugeot and Jaguar, among a number of others. Each car has a crew of at least three drivers who will rotate time behind the wheel at Petit Le Mans, which gives time to take care of general car repair during the race. It also ensures drivers will not overheat behind the wheel.
Races leading up to the Petit Le Mans include a IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) GT3 Cup Challenge, SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) World Cup Challenge and SCCA Trans-Am Series.
“I know NASCAR came to this area recently, but this is a totally different atmosphere at Petit Le Mans,” said Peugeot LMP-1 driver Anthony Davidson. “We have a lot of fans here for this race every year and I really think they enjoy it a lot.”