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Petit Le Mans 2009 // The smaller cousin to the 24 Hours gets underway

Published by Scott Woodwiss

Endurance racing has it’s classics – Le Mans, the Nürburgring, Sebring, Spa and Daytona are notable venues that all feature punishing tests of man and machine. But every year since 1998, come the end of September, one small circuit in Braselton, Georgia has been the central event of the American Le Mans Series, alongside the season opener that is the Sebring 12 Hours. Welcome, everyone, to Road Atlanta. Welcome...to the Petit Le Mans.

Why Petit Le Mans? I guess the name comes from the format of the race, which is very simple. First car across the line after 1000 miles or 10 hours of racing is the winner, both in their class and quite possibly outright as well. It’s an event that was dreamed up by ALMS founder Dr. Don Panoz, also of Panoz Motor Sports Group fame. What started out as just an IMSA event in 1998 became a round of the ALMS a year later. Infamous events include the flip that occurred for Yannick Dalmas’ GT1 Porsche in 1998 and a carbon copy of that incident happening to Bill Auberlen in his LMP BMW V12 LMR in 2000, not forgetting as well the stunning drive last year by Allan McNish to win after starting from the pits 2 laps down due to crashing the car an hour before the race!

So what can we expect? Well, let’s look at the field, class by class:

LMP1

This is going to be a very hotly contested class, with Audi, Peugeot, Oreca, Acura and Lola all represented. Audi bring their R15 TDI monster to the table with two entries for Luhr/Werner and Capello/McNish, as do Peugeot with their Le Mans-winning 908 HDi FAP. Driving their two cars will be Minassian, Lamy, Sarrazin and of course – our Franck! Audi will certainly want revenge for Le Mans this year after losing out to the French but with the Pugs that bit faster in a straight line, I reckon that back straight will be decisive somehow. Acura bring a pair of ARX-02a’s with notable drivers including David Brabham, Dario Franchitti, Gil de Ferran and IndyCar champ Scott Dixon. There’s a lot of experience in this team so expect them to be dark horses and an outside bet for the overall win. Oreca have one car with ex-F1 star Olivier Panis heading that team, while the Brits are represented by Lord Paul Drayson’s Judd-powered Lola Coupe. A pair of American-run Lola’s and a Radical round out the class.

This is a tough one to call here as it’s pretty much a certainty that the overall winner will come from this class. If I had to choose, favouritism aside, I think Peugeot will do it this year over the Audis. They’re coming into this event off the back of a fantastic win at La Sarthe and must go into it with the best form. But as we saw last year, never discount the Germans. McNish is an exceptional talent and if he gets the faintest sniff of a win, he’ll grab it with both hands, as we saw last year. Behind the diesel war, expect the Acuras to be best of the rest, with the Brabham car leading that battle.

Predicted class winner/overall winner: #8 Team Peugeot Total 908 – Montagny/Sarrazin

LMP2

A small field in LMP2 this year with just 5 entries, but almost all of them are in with a shout of winning. With no Penske Porsches in the line-up this year, Stuttgart is represented by the Team Cytosport RS Spyder of Pickett/Graf/Maassen. Also, there’s another Acura, the Lowes Fernandez machine of Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz. Plus, there’s the pair of awesome Dyson Racing Lola-Mazdas in their striking white and bright green paint jobs. Another Radical makes up the 5 car contignent.

My favourite for this class has to be the Fernandez Acura. Reason? They’ve won all but one of the ALMS events so far this season, so for me it shows they’re on solid form and have a car that seems to work on all courses. The Lola-Mazdas may find themselves chasing each other if they can’t put a stop to that Acura running away. But for me, I like the Acura better and so that’s my choice.

Predicted class winner: #15 Lowes Fernandez Racing Acura – Fernandez/Diaz

GT2

With no GT1 class this year in the ALMS, it’s left to the GT2 cars to fill the void, but the competition in this class is still fierce. Each of the 4 manufacturers represented here – BMW, Ferrari, Porsche and Chevrolet – have won at least one race this season, with the new Corvette Racing GT2-spec C6.R taking victory last time out at Mosport, Canada. But it’s the Flying Lizard Porsche that’s been the class leader so far with 5 wins in a row from St. Petersburg to Mid-Ohio. Plus, there’s the Risi Competizione Ferrari F430 of Mika Salo and Jaime Melo and of course the all-new Rahal Letterman Racing BMW M3s, which scored their first 1-2 at Road America. Other cars of note this weekend include a Dodge Viper Competition Coupe, a Ford GT and an all new GT2 Jaguar XKR making its racing debut. A Panoz and a couple more Porsches round out the class.

To be honest, I really can’t call it. The level of competition is amazing. The new Corvettes and M3s keep getting stronger and stronger and the existing Ferraris and Porsches now face a massive threat from both. Personally, I’d like to see a BMW win but looking at their win in Sebring, I’m going to pick the Salo/Melo F430 simply because if it can win in one endurance classic, it certainly looks the goods to take victory in the other. But I’d still keep an eye on that Flying Lizard Porsche. I think it’ll always be a threat all weekend, and with 5 wins already this season I’m pretty sure they would oblige making it 6. Also, keep your eyes on the BMWs and Corvettes as they should really stir things up should they come on strong.

Predicted class winner: #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari – Salo/Melo

Trivia

  • The Road Atlanta circuit is 2.54 miles long and was first opened in 1970.
  • This is the 12th Petit Le Mans event since the first one in 1998.
  • Audi driver Rinaldo “Dindo” Capello holds the record for most wins in the event with 5 (2000, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2008).
  • There are a grand total of 10 ex-F1 drivers competing this weekend (McNish, Panis, Brabham, Noda, Lamy, Montagny, Sarrazin, Magnussen, Berretta and Salo).
  • The race takes place this weekend from the 23-26 September and it’s the same weekend as the Singapore Grand Prix, which makes for a brilliant weekend’s racing.

Don’t forget to Live Comment the race on Saturday and support our boy Franck Montagny as he aims to make up for missing out on winning Le Mans despite finishing 2nd with a broken foot.

Follow the race via Radio Le Mans’ commentary and also the live timing provided by the ALMS website itself. Also, I’m sure there will be some online feeds around somewhere so if you find any, don’t hesitate to post them so everyone can enjoy them. So, pick a driver and team and support them through 10 hours of endurance racing. All that’s left for me to say is – GO FRANCK!




There is more Franck racing on today with Petit Le Mans starting very shortly. Mr C and I know very little about this kind of thing, but I always try and encourage support of FKM. To help us out, Scott Woodwiss has written an excellent introduction to the race.

Event start

16:20GMT +01:00

26 September 2009

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