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12th Annual Petit Le Mans Powered by MAZDA6

The 12 th Annual Petit Le Mans powered by MAZDA6, scheduled for 10 hours was not quite a 5 hour. When the Red Flag flew the 08 Peugeot of Stephane Sarrazin and Franck Montagny was in the lead. They were declared the winners after a long rain delay

The first lap pass that Allan McNish put on the two Peugeots heading into turn one, was worth the price of admission alone. He proceeded to build almost a 1 minute gap, with teammate Marco Werner in second. It was clear that the Audis had a better initial wet set up and there wasn’t much difference after Peugeot made adjustments, but by then a dry line was forming. When the deluge hit Audi was first to react, coming in for wets a lap earlier than Peugeot. However, McNish threw it away when he spun behind the safety car. When the Prototypes could not stay on the track, even in a straight line, there was no other course of action than to stop the race.

The story of the weekend had to be the spin and flip into the catch fence that Scott Sharp, not only survived in the Patron Highcroft Acura, but walked away from during Thursday’s practice. Equally miraculous was the stellar job that the Highcroft team completed of rebuilding the complete car in less than 24 hours. A new tub for the car was delivered to the track overnight from Honda Performance Development in Santa Clarita, California and the team’s great work paid off in the race. The car was good enough to be the second of the Petrol powered cars to finish. Shortly after 1 PM Scott Dixon put the de Ferran Acura into the tires in turn 6, which negated the opportunity presented to them to draw closer in P1 Class Championship after Sharp’s accident.

When Sharp returned to the track on Friday, he was greeted with hugs and handshakes form competitors and team members alike. Not only was he spared by the hand of God, he was also able to joke and laugh due to the hand of Bob. When Bob Barnard oversaw track operations at Road Atlanta he built those catch fences to FIA standards. You can look at the video and see that the safety built into the system is no accident. Sharp and certainly the corner workers directly behind the impact have him to thank.

The #20 BP Mazda Lola of Butch Leitzinger, Marino Franchitti and Ben Devlin was twenty-nine laps ahead of the second place Lowe’s Fernandez when the Red Flag flew and took the P2 victory. It was the first Petit Le Mans victory for both Mazda and Dyson Racing. The #16 Dyson actually finished 9 laps in front of all P2 cars, but was listed as unclassified, because it was testing experimental bio-butanol fuel, which gave superior fuel mileage.

The Risi Competizione Ferrari 430 driven by Jamie Melo, Pierre Kaffer and Mika Salo finished one lap ahead of the #92 Rahal Letterman BMW to claim the GT2 victory.

Weekend Observations and Random Rants

Having the luxury to observe and critique is a wonderful thing. Years as a promoter and event producer afford a unique position to see how somebody else does the job. An event of this magnitude will never happen without some bumps in the road and that is discounting what Mother Nature brings. Not everyone will be served to their desires and one has to just do the best they can.

But there was a sad situation at the track that should have and could have been averted. It concerned the van der Steur Racing squad and a slight transgression of credential privileges. Whatever the details, the team was fined and rather than pay a small fine, on principal, they packed up their transporter and drove back to Maryland without participating in the race! This absolutely can not be allowed to happen. Yes, call the entry a grid filler if you may, but the series sorely needs entries. When the ALMS touts the addition of a single P1 entry in their State of the Series Address, what more evidence do we need?

Speaking of the State of the Series Address, no mention was made of Audi or Peugeot’s return to race in North America. For that matter, no announcement has been made by Acura. It was fantastic to see the Audi squad at Road Atlanta. Since the inception of the series their professionalism set the standard and was the cornerstone of competition in the ALMS. Dindo Capello and Allan McNish in particular are the rare Superstar drivers that combine talent, friendliness and humility; it’s been a pleasure to watch them compete.

It is so interesting to watch the personalities throughout the weekend. VIPs and team members and all the different levels of access and privilege and the associated egos and perception of importance associated with a laminate or vest. The ALMS is one of the top racing series in the World, with technology that will make your head spin. But when all is said and done, it is the people that drive the sport; the fans, competitors and promoters. It is worth whatever it takes to get to a race just to hear a Ferrari scream out of the pits or an American Big Block thundering down the back straight. But it’s the voices of Dr. Don Panoz or Arnie Anderson, a race fan from Tennessee, who makes the trip worthwhile. For me, they both have something to say and it’s important to listen to them both.

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Copyright 2001-2013 Greg Sarni, USA