Rage against the Night.
McNish's Audi R15 chases the Peugeots but even he can't make up the gap. 2-0 to the French, a whitewash in China? Allez Les Blues!
Who can you believe these days? I feel like a politician. I boldly make a statement, totally convinced that I am right, then it turns out to be utter tosh. A quick look at my work schedule shows that I have still to write my PLM wrap up. So here goes. Reputation shot to pieces.
The 2010 edition of Petit Le Mans may well go down in history as a significant point in the development of the Le Mans brand and its relentless march on globalisation. This may be positive, or it may, in fact, be negative. It all depends on where you stand. Organiser or Team Owner? American or European? Manufacturer or Privateer? While the lofty principles of the new Intecontinental Le Mans Cup are there for all to see, the details, wherein the Devil lies, is for 2011, unclear. Rules, procedures, calendars are, even at this late stage, not fixed or if they are, someone forgot to tell the footsoldiers. All will become clear in due course, just trust us. That sounds an awfully familiar refrain. Meet the New Boss, same as the Old Boss.
So perhaps though I should dwell on that which is known. What is irrefutable is that the 2010 PLM was a great event, a record crowd and competition that was decided only on the last corners of the last lap. Even Cecil B. DeMille would have stretched his credibility if produced a Blockbuster with that kind of plot. But then he never dealt with the ACO……….
Recovering from the crushing disappointment suffered at Le Mans with multiple engine failures, the Peugeot team regrouped and affirmed both the speed of the cars and the professionalism of their outfit. They have learned how to win and to race in all situations. To beat this group will give Audi a huge task in the future.
A good example of how they now understand the three-dimensional chess game that is endurance racing came late in the race. The #7 Audi had slipped a lap down after Capello's helmet issues. So when the next full course yellow was thrown, the French split their pit stop strategy, #08 was called in, #07 continued to head the field, keeping McNish a lap down. When #07 made its stop under green flag conditions it lost time to #08, costing it the race. That was not popular with the drivers but the team mangement would point to the 1-2 result, that is what history will remember, so will the Board.
Going into the race it was clear to Audi that they could not take the Peugeots on outright speed, so race craft and some low cunning would be called for. In part his took the form of a bold pit stop strategy, the team looked really sharp all week.
The other element that would pay dividends for Audi was the aggression of #7, and particularly McNish, in traffic. During the opening stints he hung onto the two 908's and harassed them every time they tripped up over slower cars, even snatching the lead. On a tight track like Road Atlanta that would give Audi a fighting chance of the win.
The commitment in traffic of the leaders was awesome. Here Allan carves past a Corvette, not exactly slow itself, nor driven by rabbits.
It is walking the tightrope without a net, a high risk approach not for the faint hearted.
But all came to naught when the E-Ject helmet removal system (now mandatory on safety grounds) became displaced and caused Dindo's balaclava to slip and cover his eyes, a bizarre reason, if ever there were one, to lose a race. It robbed us all of a barnstorming finish between the three leaders. McNish v Montagny v Wurz, flat out around the darkness of Road Atlanta, what a story, what a contest that might have been.
What of the other R15? Accident damage lost them 15 laps while being repaired. In addition there are those in the media centre who question if Audi have the right driver line up in the #9 car. Certainly it hard to see why someone with the experience and raw speed that Lucas Luhr has shown is dropped, while others have been retained. But then what do the press know about anything?
Away from the diesel quartet it was the usual set of tales of trials and tribulations, of derring-do and what might have been, hero or zero, sometimes both. Road Atlanta can be a pretty unforgiving place, even someone as experienced as former PLM winner Emanuele Pirro can suffer the consequences. Thursday evening he tangled with another car damaging the Drayson Lola's tub and putting himself out of the race. The car was repaired as will be Emanuele given a bit of time. So Team Owner Lord Paul Drayson had to step up to the plate. He spent four hours behind the wheel during the race and afterwards was quietly pleased with his contribution.
The team performed well to get the car to the grid, so an 8th place finish was a just reward for their endeavours. Outfits like Drayson Racing have been the bedrock of endurance racing since the beginning. They will be back in the ALMS in 2011.
One familiar face that will not be on the tracks in 2011 is the Porsche RS Spyder. For a number of reasons Porsche will end its customer support programme for the car, ending a really successful venture. Cytosport, who have worked wonders with the car in 2010, will be back, not sure what with though.
Change will also be the order of the day for ALMS Prototype Champions, Highcroft Racing. The new ACO rules package comes into force at Sebring, meaning that they will have to change class or car. Whatever they decide it is certain that they will be strongly challenging for a third straight title in 2011.
Similar issues face Dyson racing but it would be inconceivable for this top outfit not to line on the grid in Florida next March.
The prospect of great racing and the autumn sunshine attracted a big turn out. The spectators certainly got their money's worth.
Road Atlanta reminds me of the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit, long may both continue in the face of local property developments. They are too good to lose.
Too good to lose, is an expression that could be applied to almost all the competitors in the ALMS GT class.
In the end the Driver's Title went to Jorg Bergmeister.
And Patrick Long.
In Europe the Porsche spearhead, Felbermayr is "assisted" at the races by the retired Norbert Singer. In the USA Flying Lizard gets the support from Porsche in the form of Roland Kussmaul. The experience and sheer race know how that these gentlemen bring to the teams is invaluble.
The #45 car ran conservatively, one of six GT contenders that finished within a lap of each other after nine hours. Fifth place was enough to take the honours. It has been a pretty good year for Porsche, Le Mans, Spa 24, LMS and ALMS titles for either drivers or teams.
The other big winners in the long term in GT were Rahal Letterman and BMW.
Others tripping up at the last minute meant that the ALMS Manufacturer's and Team's titles went to the outfit running the M3 GT2.
Where the project goes for 2011 is less clear. With Munich DTM bound in 2012 and the 3 Series model going to change, the marketing effort will have to refocus. I hope that BMW will be back both in North America and Europe in 2011, they are too good to lose.
The race win was snatched at the last minute, on the last lap by Corvette Racing and Pratt & Miller. They have had a difficult season but are top line organisation and will look to repeat the top step of the podium more times in 2011.
The contest between the lead GT teams is fierce, even getting underway at pit stops becomes a race, the margins are that close. No advantage is too small to take.
For most of the race the lead swapped about but there was always the feeling that Risi Competizione would shade the others and add to their bulging trophy cabinet. The Ferrari ran out of fuel on the last lap, not much you can say, except to commiserate with Ferrari and Risi, they too will bounce back.
One Ferrari team with something to celebrate is Extreme Speed Motorsports who thoroughly deserved their second place in the class. Like Team Falken they are gradually getting to the level of the big four and should challenge for victories in 2011.
Which is something that I would like to say about the RSR Jaguars. The team now has several months to cure the issues that have held them back in 2010.
ACS Express Racing failed to make the start with the Doran Ford GT, after this practice shunt.
The Robertson racing pair of Doran Fords did make the start and the finish. There were representatives of Matech in Atlanta so it is likely that there will be two different Ford GTs going head to head when Sebring rolls around.
Perhaps the future of endurance racing and indeed road cars was on display with Porsche's GT3R Hybrid.
Porsche and the ALMS used this opportunity to showcase the Green Racing initiative. Porsche hosted a seminar on the technology and there were a couple of US Government officials on hand to discuss how progress on this front could be made. A round of applause for those responsible.
A little more fuel efficiency might have given Ferrari victory……………….
Team Peugeot Total did a great job and were worthy winners.
Perhaps the real winners were the fans who enjoyed a fantastic race in the sunshine and agreeable surroundings.
Like most of them I hope to experience more of the same come mid-March in Sebring. Bring it on!