Series Road Atlanta race report
American Le Mans Series (ALMS) press release
A PETIT LE MANS FOR THE AGES
Peugeot and Audi Clash, LMPC and GTC Championships Settled
Photo by: Eric Gilbert
The 14th annual Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda was a classic 1,000-mile endurance thriller and a more-than-worthy finale for the 2011 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón. Peugeot Sport Total won its third straight Petit Le Mans after an intense battle with Audi Sport Team Joest as Franck Montagny, Stephane Sarrazin and Alexander Wurz drove to victory.
AF Corse held off Flying Lizard Motorsports and BMW Motorsports for the GTE-Pro win at Road Atlanta in what served as the penultimate round of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup. Tim Pappas and Black Swan Racing successfully defended their GT Challenge driver and team championships while Eric Lux, Gunnar Jeannette and Ricardo Gonzalez had a three-way tie for the LMP Challenge driver`s championship. CORE autosport earned its first LMPC team championship.
As expected, the LMP1 race began as a dogfight between Peugeot Sport Total and Audi Sport Team Joest. Marcel Fassler in the No. 1 Audi R18 took the lead briefly from the pole-winning No. 7 Peugeot 908 of Sébastien Bourdais, but Bourdais retook the race lead shortly before the first full-course yellow. The No. 7 Peugeot`s bid for a Petit Le Mans win didn`t go much farther, as the car lost drive and came to a halt early in the race`s second hour. The team brought the car behind the wall for repairs but retired shortly thereafter.
With the No. 2 Audi of Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Dindo Capello also experiencing mechanical woes, it was up to the No. 1 Audi R18 of Fässler, Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas to chase down Montagny, Sarrazin and Wurz in the No. 8 Peugeot 908.
"We all knew it would be a difficult race with the pressure between the four cars and the Oreca (Peugeot)," Wurz said. "We knew the traffic would be a lot to deal with. I didn`t think all four cars would be able to see the end. We took care of the car and the car was really good in traffic. We knew we could win if we did not make any mistakes."
An intense battle for the lead between Dumas and Montagny ended with three hours to go when the two touched at the entry to the long backstraight. The contact sent the Audi into the wall at Turn 8. From there it was clear sailing to the checkered flag for Peugeot.
"I was most of the time faster than the Audi so it was easy to pull away," Montagny said. "But we had a long yellow period. Then I got in traffic and Romain caught up to me. He tried to overtake me but I closed the door (at Turn 10). But later I opened my line to get around a GTC Porsche, and I took my line back into the left-hand corner. Romain took a jump into the hole that was only open for the Porsche. I was really sorry to have a fight like this and finish. We`d like to battle on the track. But we had a great race and had a good car."
The No. 10 Team Oreca-Matmut Peugeot 908 Hdi-FAP driven by Nicolas Lapierre, Nicolas Minassian and Marc Gené was second, followed by the No. 007 Aston Martin Racing AMR Lola Coupe B09 60 of Adrian Fernandez, Stefan Mücke and Harold Primat.
The Petit Le Mans win clinched the LMP1 championship for Peugeot in the 2011 Intercontinental Le Mans Cup as well as the team title for Team Peugeot Total.
"It meant a lot to get the championship here," Sarrazin said. "The focus was to finish the race. Franck and Alex were very fast. Traffic was tough at the end. There were a lot of drivers lost on the track toward the end. I tried more to not touch cars during overtaking. The Audi team was really fast. It was a tough race. Our engineers did a great job this weekend and gave us a great car. It shows a good team. I`m happy for this win."
BMW Motorsports took the GTE-Pro lead from pole-sitter AF Corse early but a punctured tire for the No. 55 BMW M3 GT handed the lead back to AF Corse and the No. 51 Ferrari F458 Italia driven by Giancarlo Fisichella, Gianmaria Bruni and Pierre Kaffer. A quick pit stop for BMW allowed Joey Hand to briefly take the class lead, but Bruni retook the spot on a restart moments later. Fisichella brought the Ferrari home for the win.
"It was a very, very tough race," Bruni said. "With three hours to go, we were leading, very nice 30 seconds ahead of everybody. We got the safety car. We pit, when I came out he [Joey Hand] was ahead of me. At the green I made the move in Turn 1 and I started to turn away. Then we didn`t change tires and they did. They started catching me; he was right on my rear bumper for 20-30 minutes. I just thought to be the best. I thought he`d have a drop in the tires, but the luck really came. I have to thank Michelin. We did 50 to 60 laps and we were still doing (1:20) laps. Then I left the car to Giancarlo."
"The last few laps especially, during the restart and the last few laps, I was very nervous," said Fisichella, a three-time F1 Grand Prix winner. "The BMW and Porsche had a bit of an advantage. They were 30 seconds behind me but with the safety car they were only a few seconds back. I was worried; one of the cars put a lot of oil down on the circuit. I knew I had to fight right to the end. I have to thank the team for the strategy and the mechanics. And thanks to Pierre, someone I`ve shared a car with this year, and Gianmaria who was able to keep the BMW behind him with the used tires."
"I have to say, Ferrari did a great job developing the 458," Kaffer said. "It`s a different world comparing to the 430. It was the first race I`ve done in the 458 to support these guys. I really like the car. It did a fantastic job."
In classic GT fashion, Jörg Bergmeister spent every inch of the final lap around Road Atlanta sparing with Dirk Werner`s No. 55 BMW. At the line it was Bergmeister in the No. 045 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR he shared with Patrick Long and Patrick Pilet by 0.182 seconds over Werner, who co-drives with Bill Auberlen and Augusto Farfus.
The runner-up finish for Flying Lizard enabled Michelin to claim the 2011 GT tire manufacturer`s title, while third place for BMW Motorsports was enough for BMW to earn its second consecutive GT car manufacturer`s championship.
The No. 4 Corvette of Oliver Gavin, Jan Magnussen and Richard Westbrook finished fourth on the track, but first in the MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge for GT competitors. In the GT category, all the cars classified used E85 giving them good Clean scores, so the key to winning in this category was energy consumption (Efficiency) and race speed (Fast).
After the No. 26 Signatech Nissan Oreca 03-Nissan was forced to go behind the wall for repairs, LMP2 was dominated by Level 5 Motorsports. The No. 33 HPD ARX-01g driven by Scott Tucker, Christophe Bouchut and João Barbosa won by eight laps over the No. 22 United Autosports Oak Pescarolo driven by Zak Brown, Stefan Johansson and Mark Patterson, which also collected the prototype category MICHELIN GREEN X Challenge Award in its Series debut. It was also the first time an LMP2 car won the MGXC in 2011. United Autosport`s score was the third best, but won because its two other competitors failed to meet the criteria to win. It the second win in as many races for Level 5`s new HPD ARX-01g.
"We`re really pleased with the performance of the Honda," Tucker said. "The competition was really tough today. We knew it`d be a really tough battle. We knew there`d be a lot of competition today and a big battle. We were fortunate because the car is just about six weeks old. It went through a six-hour race and a 10-hour race. We`re really pleased with that."
"We knew coming into the weekend traffic would play a key role to the outcome of the race," Barbosa said. "We were lucky to have a big enough of a lead and manage traffic with the extra care and stay out of trouble. That`s what we did after we got the lead, make no mistakes and manage our risks. The car performed perfectly for the whole nine-hour race. It`s a great car."
"It`s a really great car," Bouchut said. "(Level 5) showed in the past they are competitive at a really top level. For us, it is really for a strong surprise to start like this. We are running six hours without a problem and to come here and win LMP2. The car is very fast and very reliable."
Signatech was third with drivers Franck Mailleux, Jean-Karl Vernay and Lucas Ordoñez.
In GTE-Am, Krohn Racing won its home race with drivers Tracy Krohn, Niclas Jönsson and Michele Rugolo in the No. 57 Ferrari F430.
"I`m going to let the team walk the trophy up the hill," joked Krohn, whose shop is based at Road Atlanta. "They did a great job today. We didn`t miss a step. The team kept us strong and in line. When you do this great you always remember. Traffic was much worse than you could have imagined. It was unbelievable. With the LMP cars there is so much downforce, and if they slow down too much they lose grip. To share this win with Michele and Nic… Nic has been with me for eight years, so it`s nice to share this hardware with him."
The No. 50 Larbre Competition Corvette C6-ZR1 shared by Patrick Bornhauser, Julien Canal and Gabriele Gardel was second, followed by the No. 60 Gulf AMR Middle East Aston Martin Vantage of Fabien Giroix and Michael Wainwright.
The battle for the LMPC win between PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports and Intersport Racing was a nail-biter, but the focus often fell back to the CORE autosport and Genoa Racing cars, battling for the LMPC driver and team championships.
PR1`s Ryan Lewis, Ken Dobson and Henri Richard found themselves trading the lead with Intersport`s Kyle Marcelli, Tomy Drissi and Chapman Ducote as the CORE and Genoa teams struggled with off course excursions and mechanical travails.
"I think from the beginning the way the race went, we went in just wanting to survive," Lewis said. "Being in the lead lap with the last hour, we knew we`d be in a good chance to winning the race. We got some good luck today."
"It`s funny, the speed difference seemed more than Sebring," Dobson noted. "The braking zones were quite alarming. It was quite exhilarating to see the Audis and Peugeots go flying by."
At one point it appeared as though all of PR1`s efforts would be for naught when contact caused some damage to the No. 52 Oreca FLM09. The injury was minimal and PR1 crossed the line 0.172 seconds ahead of Intersport`s No. 89 Oreca FLM09.
"I was just having fun," Richard said. "I didn`t know my relative position. The team didn`t want to put pressure on me, so I was just driving around having fun. It was my first time driving this car, and driving at this track. I had a bit of a tap, no harm no foul. But the team put together a great car. So I gave the car over to Ryan and he brought it home for us. It was a fun win today."
With a third-place finish for the No. 06 Oreca FLM09 of Gunnar Jeannette, Ricardo Gonzalez and Ryan Dalziel, CORE autosport earned its first LMPC team championship by one point over Genoa Racing.
"We definitely didn`t know what was going to happen," Jeannette said. "I don`t think we still know what`s happening. All that aside, I have to say it`s a fantastic year driving with Ricardo and being a part of the CORE autosport organization. This was part of the (IMSA) Lites series last year. It was a steep learning curve for any organization I`ve ever been a part of."
"I am very happy for the team, in the first year," Gonzalez said. "To participate in the ALMS it requires a lot more people. They did a great job recruiting a lot of talent. We got along very well, which is important. I got along well with Gunnar and Rudy (Junco, their Road Atlanta teammate). Rudy added a lot to the driver team. Last year is was about getting used to the car, this year it was about developing the car." Finishing fourth in the No. 063 Oreca FLM09, Lux tied Jeannette and Gonzalez for the LMPC driver`s championship. Each driver had the same point totals plus number of first-, second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-place finishes.
"It was great to show the battle in this race after the season we had all year," Lux said. "I think it was quite fitting that we actually tied. It shows how close the competition is. We had a broken half-shaft but the team kept up and got us back out there. The 06 had its issues and so did the 05 and luckily the hard work paid off."
"I would like to be champion with Gunnar only, but that`s life," Gonzalez added. "We are very happy for Eric. We had a lot of good fights. He is a really good driver."
Pit lane played a major role in the battle for the GTC win and championships. Even with an early pit lane violation and subsequent penalty, TRG`s No. 66 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup driven by Spencer Pumpelly, Duncan Ende and Peter Ludwig was in the lead with less than three-and-half hours remaining. Black Swan Racing usurped the lead from TRG with a quick pit stop, but then Alex Job Racing played the same strategy with the No. 23 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup to take the lead in the final round of pit stops. Driving the No. 54 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup he shared with Tim Pappas and Sebastiaan Bleekemolen, Jeroen Bleekemolen was able to take the lead from AJR`s Leh Keen in the closing minutes of the race.
"It`s so close between the three of us at the end, if anything went wrong we`d lose a lot," Jeroen Bleekemolen said. "We had some issues. One time the starter motor wouldn`t work. We lost the dash for a bit. It was great that we could take it. Last year we lost Petit by only a little bit. I did almost four hours in the car. I had nice a bit of a gap at the end but we got the safety car and I got nervous. Then I had to push at the end just to make sure to keep him back behind me."
Bleekmolen collected the win 8.130 seconds ahead of Keen who drove the No. 23 Porsche with Bill Sweedler and Brian Wong. Forced to pit with less than 10 minutes remaining to take on additional fuel, TRG finished third.
"It wasn`t too bad for us," Sebastiaan Bleekemolen said. "Jereon said the dark was crazy. We did a great job in briefing. They said don`t overtake here, or pass him there, and I stayed with that, and it was easier to get around guys. It was a great car we had. Very fast and it made for a good win."
The win gave Black Swan Racing its second consecutive GTC team championship and Pappas his second consecutive driver`s championship.
"It certainly wasn`t easy," Pappas said. "It was something we had to work for. We really appreciate this victory and championship. Every two seconds I was talking to all the team. I was bugging them constantly for the last four hours asking `where are we, what are we doing, are we ok?` When the last caution came out, we got deflated because the same happened at Laguna. And to lose last year, we got freaked out when it was going to be so close at the restart. The sweetest part of the win this year is that we had competition for the whole season. So for sure, it made the win a big achievement. It feels fantastic."
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Team ORECA-Matmut Petit Le Mans Road Atlanta report
BMW Team RLL Road Atlanta race report