October arrives bringing with it the final episodes of 2010. At this time of year motorsport pulls down the shutters and prepares for the winter, and hopefully, the spring. There are still some rituals to be observed, the last Grand Prix and the Formula One titles, Macau and in North America, Petit Le Mans.
This instant classic, brought to a grateful public some 12 years ago by the Don Panoz and the ACO, is the punctuation mark, the full stop, that completes the real endurance season. The 2010 race was a real humdinger, with a good grid, close, sometimes too close, racing and a record crowd lured out to bask in the Georgia sunshine.
Victory went to the #8 Peugeot 908, going some small way to make up for the disappointments of June at La Sarthe. Audi fought them all the way, as you would expect but most observers on the ground agreed that the French were good for their win.
The #08 driver trio of Stephane Sarrazin, Franck Montagny and Pedro Lamy hardly put a foot wrong during the race. Peugeot also showed that they had learned lessons the hard way and matched Audi on both race craft and pit work. Montagny caught the eye, showing blistering pace whenever he was behind the wheel. A top line performance.
The 13th Petit Le Mans was to be the final round of the 2010 American Le Mans Series and also the second instalment of the inaugural Intercontinental Le Mans Cup. Confusing huh? So some folks were racing for National honours, some for the World Championship by any other name and some were just racing. The entry list showed 45 cars, though the Panoz was never going to be ready in time, and two cars had to be scratched from the grid after accidents in practice. Still 43 cars in 5 classes round the whirligig Road Atlanta circuit would challenge all the competitors, staying out of trouble would be the name of the game.
The clouds rolled away on Thursday ushering in warm, sunny weather, so that encouraged a record crowd to rock up to Braselton on Saturday morning. Most of them seemed to swarm onto the grid, mingling with the teams, VIPs and media to give a real American flavour to the event.
Somehow or other the throng was persuaded to leave the grid and the cars lined up to set off on the pace lap. As the Green Flag was waved. Marc Gene in the pole sitting #07 Peugeot accelerated away and, as might be expected, Allan McNish launched a banzai attack on the first lap to squeeze the #8 Peugeot into third. Montagny was having none of that kind of malarky and regained the position later in the lap. The battle had commenced. The vagaries of traffic ensured that the gaps between the top four ebbed and flowed, as in turn each of the fast quartet tripped over a backmarker.
The first full course yellow arrived around the half hour mark after Bill Sweedler decided to test the tyrewall at Turn 12.
Peugeot left the #08 car out and pitted the #07. Slick work by Audi got both their cars out in front of the Peugeot but the whole race was in a state of continual flux.
The Peugeots, especially the #08 car, had the edge on outright speed but the confines of the track and traffic meant that it would be difficult to exploit that speed advantage fully. These are circumstances tailor made for Allan McNish whose gladiatorial instincts are brought to the surface at times like this. His commitment in traffic was breath taking. Audi were always in with a shout as long as he is on the team.
The first of the lead quartet to have a problem was #9 when Andre Lotterer hit the kerbs after trying to pass a back marker. Here is a similar incident from Thursday. 15 laps were lost repairing the damage to the undertray and diffuser, Audi's challenge was down to one car.
The #07 Peugeot was running strongly keeping with its team leader and the surviving Audi. The race entered into the second half with few full course cautions and the victory would go to the team that avoided the next problem.
It would be Audi's turn to blink first or actually not. Dindo Capello was forced to stop for the most bizarre reason, as the press release put it.
Dindo Capello, who was leading at that time, had to come in for an unscheduled pit stop because an insert in his helmet prescribed by the regulations had come loose and the fireproof balaclava started to cover his eyes. Without being able to see anything, Capello had to let the Peugeot behind him pass and head for the pits in a blind flight.
In his own words. "But then the nightmare started. At first I didn’t have a clue as to what was happening. I had the feeling that the helmet was suddenly three sizes larger than before. We later found out that the E-Ject insert in the helmet had come loose. I was even lucky not to have had an accident since I was completely blind in one turn because the helmet slipped across my eyes. Even after so many years you can still experience something new."
I had breakfast with TK and Dindo Sunday morning and the unfortunate Italian was still in a state of shock and bemusement. He could not believe it. Nor could his team. A victory had been lost in the weirdest of circumstances.
The #7 Audi was now a lap down on the two Peugeots and the French outfit are far too good to let an advantage like that slip. So it played out and ten minutes after the Nine hour point the 1000 miles were done.
1-2 to Peugeot and a bit of work to do for Audi before Zhuhai.
While all this "International Diesel Class" stuff was going on there was also the 2010 ALMS prototype category to be decided. Patron Highcroft Racing arrived in Atlanta with the titles as theirs to lose. All they had to do was complete 70% distance and they would be Champs. Sounds easy when you say it but confronted with the casino that is traffic around Road Atlanta, when you can be put out of the race through no fault of your own, the reality is less so. On the day it was a case of "No worries" as the ebullient team PR man, Paul Ryan, might have said. The HPD ARX-01c ran faultlessly, finishing fourth overall and giving all the silverware to Duncan Dayton and his crew, a class act.
The other contenders for the title, albeit with a slim chance, was the Team Cytosport Porsche Spyder. Most unusually for a Porsche, the car started on seven cyliders and the team never managed to find a cure. Despite this they got to the finish but had to cede the spoils to Highcroft.
In the class that was closely fought for the first third of the race, Le Mans Prototypes, the race became one of attrition. The result was that the #95 Level 5 Motorsport entry took the honours.
The Porsche GTC class drivers all must have neck problems, spending their time looking in the mirror wondering what would engulf them next. Of course the need to look forwards is also important………………………
The class was taken, as with so many times before, by the TRG entry. Kevin Buckler's teams know how to win.
A welcome addition to the field, running in an invitational class was the werks Porsche 911 GT3R Hybrid. After coming so close to outright victory at the 2010 Nurburgring 24 Hours, Porsche took this opportunity to display what they believe to be the future of motorsport. With this year's Le Mans winning trio aboard, (Bernhard, Rockenfeller, Dumas) the 911 ran strongly and finished.
If one factor dominated racing, at Road Atlanta it was traffic. The consequences of impatience were too grim to contemplate and despite wild predictions before the race, the field acquitted itself well and kept contact to a minimum.
All of which leaves us with the creme de la creme.
It is a fair assertion that the GT2 class in the 2010 ALMS is a match in quality for any category of motorsport, anywhere on the planet. Risi Competitione, Pratt & Miller, Flying Lizards, Rahal Letterman are all top line teams and the progress shown by newcomers Extreme Speed and Team Falken shows that they will be knocking on the door, come 2011. The driver talent is second to none, the competition is hard and relentless.
The Ferraris seemed to have an advantage on pace during the run up to the start but once the Green Flag dropped it became anyone's race with each of the top contenders taking turns at the head of the pack.
In the end it came down to the last pit stops, a splash and dash affair, and the last lap. Toni Vilander's Risi Ferrari looked set for victory having 6 seconds on the next car going into the final lap. Disaster struck and as the 430GT powered out of Turn 7 the engine died and the Ferrari coasted down the hill to be marooned at Turn 10. It had run out of fuel. The Risi team lost both the titles at the last gasp and only had a third place as a poor consolation prize.
Victory was the reward for the #4 Corvette of Oliver Gavin, Jan Magnussen and Emmanuel Collard, they ran out of fuel too, but after they had passed the Chequered Flag, an important distinction. Joy was unbounded in the Corvette pits as though they have been the fastest GT2 on many occasions this year, they had failed to convert that pace into victory. It was a well timed boost for Pratt & Miller.
Evidence of the hot pace set in GT2, if any were needed, was shown by the five place gap to the #3 Corvette, despite only being one lap adrift after nine hours of racing.
Second place in the class went to the Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari F430 GT, driven by Johannes van Overbeek, Scott Sharp and Dominik Farnbacher. For a team in its debut season in such a tough arena, this was a dream result. It was regarded in the press room as a breakthrough performance.
Fourth place for BMW Rahal Letterman Racing's #92 might under other circumstances be regarded as a disappointment. Not at the 2010 Petit Le Mans. With Ferrari falling at the last hurdle, the result scored by Dirk Werner, Bill Auberlen and Tommy Milner was enough to grab the ALMS Manufacturers and Teams titles. We'll hear more from Mr. Milner later this week, here on SpeedHunters.
After leading in the first hour the #90 stopped with a "technical problem" losing a load of time and ending any chance of a result.
Always lurking in the background was the #45 Flying Lizard Porsche. Fifth place was enough to crown both Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister as GT2 Drivers' Champions.
The crowd pleasing Doran Ford GT continues to make progress in this competitive arena.
As does Team Falken, a full account of their adventures later in the week.
An improvement in performance is difficult to see with the JaguarRSR effort. A lot of work will be needed over the winter break to get on the pace.
Ultimately Peugeot did not need to pull the wool (or a balaclava) over Audi, they had the pace and the smarts to win and they did.
Vive La France!
The 2010 Petit Le Mans was a great race and a great event. Sebring 2011 is less than six months away, be there for the next thriller.