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Start your engines: Petit Le Mans runs Saturday
The No. 66 Acura with the de Ferran Motorsports team placed fifth in the qualifying races Friday. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

BRASELTON — In the grand scheme of things, Luis Diaz has nothing to race for during today’s 12th annual Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.

Diaz and his partner/team owner Adrian Fernandez have already locked up the LMP2 championship which means that today’s event is a 10-hour long victory lap.

"The pressure is off our shoulders and we’ll be enjoying this weekend more," Diaz said Thursday. "We’ll share the championship with the fans and all the sponsors."

And through the main sponsor, Lowe’s, he and his team will also be giving back to Georgians, which provides a little more motivation to a championship team.

"Every lap we do, Lowe’s will help the people from the flooding," Diaz said. "That’s huge incentive for us to do well."

While he did not state how Lowe’s will help the recent flood victims, Diaz said that incentive, plus winning a race that has eluded him the past two years is all the motivation he needs.

"This race is really challenging," he said. "I think if we finally win this race, it’ll be very nice."

Winning this year’s Petit Le Mans will just be icing on the proverbial cake for the Acura LMP2 team, but for teams in other classifications, a strong showing at today’s race could turn into a championship.

One of those championship contenders took a big hit Thursday when Scott Sharp, who was on a practice run for the LMP1 leading Patron Highcroft team, collided with another car, flipped several times and totaled the car.

"Scott tagged a slower car and the car is now destroyed," Sharp’s teammate David Brabham said. "The main focus is getting us a car before the start of the race.

"The majority of the car is trash," he added. "I’m sure there are some people out there that would like to buy some broken pieces of an Acura and mount it on the wall because that’s all it’s good for at the moment."

While he hoped that the new car would be ready in time for today’s race, Brabham knows the most important thing is that his teammate is OK.

"Nothing’s wrong with him," he said of Sharp. "He went to the medical center and got signed off. The most important aspect is the human factor and Scott’s fine."

The crash might have impacted Thursday’s race schedule, but fellow competitors in the class know that it won’t slow down the team from Patron.

"(That crash) doesn’t change anything, we’re just concentrating on what we do," Peugeot driver Nic Minassian said. "The most important thing is Scott is alright. I know they’re going to repair the car and will be fine."

Another team that hopes to be fine is the defending GT2 Petit Le Mans champion team in the No. 62 Ferrari, which is 21 points behind the first-place team of Joerg Bergmeister, Patrick Long and Marc Lieb.

"The key to this kind of race is to get a good car to drive, a consistent car, a comfortable car and to stay out of trouble," said Jaime Melo, one of the drivers of the No. 62 Ferrari. "Hopefully we’ll have a good car for the race and I think the three drivers have the same driving style so that will help."

The Ferrari team might be chasing the No. 45 Porshe of Bergmeister, Long and Lieb, but Melo knows that the BMW and Corvette team can also contend for a win today.

"There are five or six cars that can be there at the end of the race," he said.

One of those cars could be the Corvette driven by Flowery Branch resident Johnny O’Connell, who won the GT1 competition at last year’s Petit Le Mans.

"This is an event that you must respect because of its distance, anything can happen," said Corvette team owner Doug Feehan. "But we show up to every race trying to win."

Feehan said having a hometown hero on his side helps.

"It’s always interesting to watch the legions of people from mullets to Paris-fashionistas that show up to support him," he said of O’Connell. "He has a wide-range of appeal as does Corvette. He’s emblematic of the broad range of appeal that Corvette has."

O’Connell knows how it feels to win a Petit Le Mans, and his fellow competitors hope to experience that feeling today.

"It’ll mean the world to me," Minassian said of winning. "I’ve been chasing to win a big race for years.

"For me, this race is part of the three biggest races of the year: Le Mans, Sebring and Petit Le Mans," he added. "They’re all fantastic races."

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