Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, Level 5 Motorsports and Rebellion Racing were the big winners at this years Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda. Rebellion’s Neel Jani, Andrea Belicchi and Nicolas Prost won the 1,000-mile race for the first time with a three-lap victory in their Lola-Toyota on a drama filled day at Road Atlanta.
Muscle Milk Pickett Racing captured the big prize with the P1 drivers’ and team championship in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron. Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf finished third in class but completed enough laps to secure both titles.
An early accident and an hour-long repair forced the No. 6 Honda Performance Development ARX-03a out of the chase for the race victory in the opening hour. Luhr made contact with Peter LeSaffre’s Green Hornet Racing No. 34 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR on the uphill run to Turn 2. Luhr attempted to pass underneath the Porsche, which turned down into the prototype.
“I think we had a very good car to fight Rebellion,” Luhr said. “The way the (Muscle Milk crew) acted in the pits and the way they stuck together, they focused on getting the car back out. You can be, as a driver, proud to be part of something strong.”
The incident damaged the suspension on the HPD prototype and forced the car back to the paddock for 65 minutes worth of repairs. Muscle Milk lost 41 laps to the Rebellion car during the stop and had to pit again for additional adjustments. But the car never appeared in danger of falling below the threshold of 70 percent of the race distance required to score points.
“The tire wear was quite severe after my first stint, so we thought it would be better to adjust it to not take any risks,” Graf said. “When the team said we won the championship we were relieved, but the conditions were getting more and more difficult. We won a lot of races this year, and we definitely deserved this championship. I don’t think it has sunk in yet. It might take some time.”
Luhr was leading at the time of the crash, having passed Jani 20 minutes earlier. The Rebellion Lola never fell out of the lead again and won its first overall race of the season. Dyson Racing’s No. 16 Lola-Mazda of Chris Dyson, Guy Smith and Steven Kane was second in class.
After starting dead last in the 42-car field of Saturday’s Petit Le Mans at the Road Atlanta racetrack, the Nissan DeltaWing finally completed its first race, finishing an impressive sixth overall. The unique prototype driven by Gunnar Jeannette and Lucas Ordonez completed 388 laps.
Although the prototype racer was shunted and rolled by a Porsche during a testing session before the race, bringing up more questions about whether the DeltaWing could be a serious competitive racecar, the team was able to repair the car in time for qualifying on Friday. However, despite driver Gunnar Jeannette qualifying 10th overall amid a pack of LMP2-class racers with twice the power, the Batmobile-like racer was forced to start at the back of the pack because it didn’t fit in any of the race’s normal categories.
But the less-than-ideal starting position only served to showcase just how fast a car with half the weight and half the aerodynamic drag of its competitors can be. With new orange side mirrors for added visibility, the DeltaWing surged from 42nd to 10th in the first 37 minutes of the race, despite being plagued by traffic and getting stuck on the wrong side of safety cars early on. After completing a total of 388 laps, the racer finished sixth overall—just two laps shy of the next-fastest LMP2 car.
The DeltaWing probably won’t get a second shot at the 24 Hours of Le Mans next year. This year it was allowed in as the single prototype entry, but in 2013 that spot is reserved for the hydrogen fuel cell-powered GreenGT H2; DeltaWing would have to be invited back based upon its racing accomplishments. At the very least, DeltaWing enthusiasts can rejoice that car will be allowed to continue proving itself on the track: Earlier this month, the IMSA, the sanctioning body for the American Le Mans Series, announced the car will be competing as a classified racer for the 2013 ALMS season.
A competitive run in Dempsey Racing’s Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda debut came to an early end Saturday at Road Atlanta after a pair of avoidable contact incidents with the team’s No. 27 Trina Solar/Drink GNC/Motegi Racing Lola-Judd forced the P2-class entry and drivers Patrick Dempsey, Joe Foster and Dane Cameron to retire from the premier American Le Mans Series Presented by Tequila Patrón endurance race just past the halfway mark.
Dempsey, Foster and Cameron each drove a shift in the Trina Solar/Drink GNC/Motegi Racing machine which was among the P2 class contenders in the first half of the 10-hour endurance event. Starting driver Cameron quickly moved into top-five contention in the race’s opening hours, running as high as third overall and second in P2.
“It was a good little way to open the race, with a nice little triple stint there, almost three hours,” Cameron said. “The car was running well, we had a couple little issues here and there but we were able to tune those out with adjustments in the cockpit so everything, for the most part, was going smooth and we were just chipping away at laps, minding our own business and staying out of trouble.”
Trouble soon found the No. 27, however, as a bizarre “accordion crash” under caution at the end of Foster’s solid opening triple stint sent the Dempsey Racing team scrambling. The melee actually saw Foster forced into the back end of Dempsey Racing’s sister PC- class Silicon Tech Racing No. 25 STANDD/Racer’s Roast Oreca FLM09 with Henri Richard at the wheel.
“It was pretty frustrating,” Foster said. “I guess maybe some of the folks aren’t quite up on the pace car rules in the U.S. but the pace car came out to pick up the overall leader that wasn’t in front of us and somebody three or four cars ahead of our teammate Henri in our 25 car decided to slam on their brakes and it caused a big stack up. Maybe they were slowing down to have a look at the pace car or something, see what kind of car it was, I don’t know what their deal was, but everybody locked up their brakes and I slid into the back of Henri. Luckily the 25 was able to continue but we lost major time after being in fourth and having a reasonably good run considering the competition we were up against.”
The Dempsey Racing crew quickly repaired the Lola-Judd but returned to the race, now with Dempsey at the wheel, several laps down and with no realistic chance at victory. The team shifted its focus to development and gaining some valuable experience for Dempsey only to see even that effort soon thwarted by another contact incident.
“The car was much better than in qualifying,” Dempsey said. “Dane did a great job in his first stint, he did a triple stint, so he was doing a great job and positioned us nicely and Joe did a great job in his three stints. We were in striking distance certainly and we had a shot to get onto the podium, but the first setback ruined our chances. Then it was just a question of getting more seat time and more experience. The guys did a great job getting the car back together and back out, and I felt good. I was out running around, was really good in traffic, had a great restart and stayed out of trouble for the most part. Then I think I got behind another car on cold tires and he lost it, over steered coming out of Turn 7 and came across the front of me. I had nowhere to go because I was already going past him, and that was that. I am OK and had a good time all around even though we didn’t make it to the finish for the first time this year.”
Despite the obvious disappointment, the Dempsey Racing team and all three drivers left Road Atlanta encouraged by a respectable showing in what was the debut Petit Le Mans for the team, Dempsey and Cameron. Foster was running his first Petit since 2004.
“It was cool,” Cameron said. “When I ran at Mid-Ohio in the P2 car for the first time I only got in at the end, so I didn’t really get to race with anybody. So it was fun at the beginning, I got to race with a few guys, get a little wheel-to-wheel action, which is always good fun, that’s the way I like to race. It certainly wasn’t an ideal ending to our week at Petit Le Mans but Joe and Patrick both had great stints and I think we were on form for a good result. So, it’s a disappointing note to end on but I am very thankful to Patrick and Joe for the chance to race with them and look forward to Sebring 2013!”
Petit Le Mans was only the fifth race for the Dempsey Racing No. 27 Trina Solar/Drink GNC/Motegi Racing Lola-Judd in what was a partial debut season of development in ALMS in 2012.
“This is still a development program for sure and it was good to have the European teams here to see where we were at,” Foster said. “We have a lot to learn still, strategically and race craft, and knowing the event and track we ran top-five in a car that really was not a top-five car. We all know that Dane can drive the wheels off of anything, and given where the car qualified we knew where the car was and as a team we got up to second or third, so we are happy.”
Dempsey is also encouraged about the future after a challenging but rewarding first experience in top rank sports car racing prototype competition this year.
“We knew going into this year that it was going to be a learning year for us,” Dempsey said. “We knew we were going to make mistakes, and we knew we needed to understand what we needed to do next year not to make those mistakes and to improve as a team. I think the whole exercise has been really good, we know exactly what we need to focus on next year. We need more testing, we need to be away from the crowds and go out and make mistakes and find the edge. We’ve been doing that publicly this year and with that comes the good and the bad. But I’m having a great time. I thought it drove really well, have got work on the conditioning a little bit more, but my pace considering my experience level was good to build on. It’s going to be a good year next year.”
Extreme Speed Motorsports won the GT category from pole position, but its 1,000-mile journey to the top step of the podium was by no means an easy one. Scott Sharp came under fire early in the race from the No. 4 Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1 driven by Oliver Gavin, but teammate Johannes van Overbeek was able put the No. 01 Ferrari F458 Italia back out in front.
“It was good to be able to lead a bit,” Sharp said. “Toward the end of my run, Gavin got underneath me, I was just trying to hang on; (the car) was getting looser and looser. We put some stickers on for Johannes, and he was flying right away.”
Van Overbeek, Sharp and Toni Vilander each faced additional challenges from the No. 4 and No. 3 Corvettes as well as from BMW Team RLL’s No. 55 BMW E92 M3. When the No. 4 Corvette C6 ZR1 retreated to the paddock to address a suspension issue at the six-hour mark and the No. 55 was issued a pit lane penalty with 30 minutes remaining, Vilander had some breathing room for the closing laps. This provided only partial relief as the team took a gamble on fuel strategy and stayed on course while Antonio Garcia pitted the No. 3 Corvette. ESM’s gamble paid off, and Vilander crossed the finish line with a 30-second margin of victory over Garcia’s Corvette.
“2010 was on my mind when we ran out of fuel in (Turn) 10a,” Vilander said. “My engineer, Lee, was on the radio most of my last stint. I did everything I could to save fuel. We were so relieved when I went by 10a and knew I had enough fuel. There was a lot of emotion.”
Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Jordan Taylor shared a runner-up finish for Corvette Racing, which clinched the team and manufacturer’s title at VIRginia International Raceway in September, as well as the driver’s championship for Gavin and Tommy Milner. The runner-up finish at Petit Le Mans added one more trophy to Corvette’s 2012 showcase: the MICHELIN GREEN Challenge GT Championship. Though ESM won the MGXC race, the No. 3 Corvette won the war by racing the cleanest, fastest and most efficient season of all.
Jorg Muller, Bill Auberlen and Jonathan Summerton completed the GT podium for BMW Team RLL, following their late-race penalty.
Level 5 Motorsports’ Scott Tucker and Christophe Bouchut repeated as P2 driver champions with a class victory alongside Luis Diaz in their No. 95 HPD ARX-03b. The trio took the lead for good when Conquest Racing’s Martin Plowman went off track and then was penalized for speeding in pit lane with 20 minutes left.
Just as it has been all season, Saturday’s P2 race was another duel between Level 5’s two prototypes and the Conquest Morgan-Nissan. Like Muscle Milk, Level 5 needed to finish 70 percent of the class winner’s race distance. Tucker, Bouchut and Diaz made that a moot point with an 8.196-second victory.
“We have a really good car,” Bouchut said. “It does so well in traffic. This race is so special. It is a mix of being risky and patient. We saw a lot that it was easy to make contact and lose track position. But, we had a perfect race.”
For a while the advantage lay with the No. 055 Level 5 entry of Tucker, Dario Franchitti and Marino Franchitti. Two costly penalties did the car in during the race’s second half, and it finished second in P2. The No. 46 ORECA-Nissan of Thiriet by TDS Racing placed third with Mathias Beche, Pierre Thiriet and Christophe Tinseau driving.
“We’ve been through this before with our first Prototype Challenge championship (in 2010) that came down to the last race,” said Tucker, who won his third straight ALMS class title. “We knew it would be tight. Conquest are great competitors. We knew 70 percent would be no easy task.”
CORE autosport capped off its banner season with its eighth Prototype Challenge victory of the season. The trio of Alex Popow, Ryan Dalziel and Mark Wilkins drove its No. 06 ORECA FLM09 to the win by two laps over RSR Racing. Popow won for the fifth time in his rookie season and clinched the class driving title last month at VIR.
“For sure, it was a great race,” Popow said. “Ryan and Mark did an awesome job. We had a lot of bad luck with the yellows, but we made it all back. It was a great race. For me it has been an amazing season â one I will never forget. I feel like I made a great evolution as a driver and hope I can keep learning and go to a higher level every time from here.”
Bruno Junqueira, Tomy Drissi and Ricardo Vera drove the second-place RSR entry. PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports finished third in class with drivers Rudy Junco, Ken Dobson and Elton Julian.
Alex Job Racing, NGT Motorsports, TRG and JDX Racing spent nearly all 1,000 miles Saturday locked in a dead heat. NGT rose to the top by running a consistent and error-free race.
Consistently running in the top-three with drivers Henrique Cisneros, Mario Farnbacher and Jakub Giermaziak, NGT kept the nose of its No. 30 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup pointed forward while both AJR and TRG made costly, off-course excursions. Giermaziak was chasing AJR’s Leh Keen in the closing minutes of the race when Keen launched his No. 22 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup over the curbing at Turn 10. That enabled Giermaziak to sneak past and into the lead, which he held to the checkered flag.
“It was a really tough race,” Giermaziak said. “We really pulled out a big gap twice; then we got the yellows. It was my first race in the States, so there were a bit different rules. We were the slowest class going around with so much traffic and other classes. I was able to put the pressure on Leh Keen; he made a mistake and we were able to get around him. I am hoping to get more races over here in the States.”
Spencer Pumpelly, Emilio Di Guida and Nelson Canache finished second in TRG’s No. 66 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup. The team fought back for the runner-up finish after Pumpelly lodged himself in the Turn 10 gravel at the race’s halfway mark. The team’s second entry â the No. 68 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup driven by Emmanuel Collard, Manuel Gutierrez, Jr. and Mike Hedlund â finished third.
Though a Petit Le Mans win escaped it, Alex Job Racing had already clinched the GTC team championship at VIR in September and the driver’s championship for Cooper MacNeil.
The GTE-Am category, part of the European Le Mans Series, was won by IMSA Performance Matmut and its No. 67 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR driven by Anthony Pons, Raymond Narac and Nicolas Armindo.
Final Race Position Car Number Car Driver 1 Driver 2 Driver 3
1 12 Lola B12/60 Toyota Neel Jani Nicolas Prost Andrea Belicchi
2 95 HPD ARX-03b Honda Scott Tucker Christophe Bouchut Luis Diaz
3 55 HPD ARX-03b Marino Franchitti Dario Franchitti Scott Tucker
4 46 Oreca Nissan Christophe Tinseau Mathias Beche Pierre Thiriet
5 0 Delta Wing Proj 56 Nissan Gunnar Jeannette Lucas Ordonez
6 6 Oreca FLM09 Chevrolet Alex Popow Ryan Dalziel Mark Wilkins
7 35 Morgan Nissan Jacques Nicolet Bertrand Baguette Olivier Pla
8 9 Oreca FLM09 Chevrolet Bruno Junqueira Tomy Drissi Ricardo Vera
9 52 Oreca FLM09 Chevrolet Rudy Junco Ken Dobson Elton Julian
10 5 Oreca FLM09 Chevrolet Colin Braun Ricardo Gonzalez Jonathan Bennett
11 8 Oreca FLM09 Chevrolet Matt Downs Chapman Ducote Kyle Marcelli
12 1 Ferrari F458 Italia Scott Sharp Toni Vilander Johannes van Overbeek
13 3 Corvette C6-ZR1 Antonio Garcia Jordan Taylor Jan Magnussen
14 55 BMW E92 M3 Jorg Muller Jonathan Summerton Bill Auberlen
15 56 BMW E92 M3 Dirk Mueller Jonathan Summerton Uwe Alzen
16 45 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR Jorg Bergmeister Patrick Long Patrick Pilet
17 17 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR Bryan Sellers Wolf Henzler Martin Ragginger
18 25 Oreca FLM09 Chevrolet Ryan Lewis Henri Richard Duncan Ende
19 44 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR Marco Holzer Seth Neiman Nick Tandy
20 91 SRT Viper GTSR Dominik Farnbacher Ryan Hunter-Reay Kuno Wittmer
21 2 Ferrari F458 Italia Guy Cosmo Ed Brown Anthony Lazzaro
22 48 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR Bryce Miller Sascha Maassen Richard Lietz
23 67 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR Raymond Narac Nicolas Armindo Anthony Pons
24 23 Lotus Evora/Cosworth Townsend Bell Bill Sweedler Johnny Mowlem
25 30 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup Henrique Cisneros Mario Farnbacher Jakub Giermaziak
26 66 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup Spencer Pumpelly Nelson Canache Emilio Di Guida
27 68 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup Mike Hedlund Emmanuel Collard Manuel Gutierrez Jr.
28 11 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup Chris Cumming Michael Valiante Sean Johnston
29 22 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup Leh Keen Dion von Moltke Cooper MacNeil
30 4 Corvette C6-ZR1 Oliver Gavin Tommy Milner Richard Westbrook
31 16 Lola B12/60 Mazda Chris Dyson Guy Smith Steven Kane
32 1 Zytek Z11SN Nissan Tom Kimber-Smith Alex Brundle Alex Buncombe
33 6 HPD ARX-03a Honda Lucas Luhr Romain Dumas Klaus Graf
34 118 Oreca Nissan Jody Firth Brendon Hartley Warren Hughes
35 20 Lola B11/66 Mazda Tony Burgess Chris McMurry Mark Patterson
36 31 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup Angel Andres Benitez Jr Mark Bullitt Jeff Segal
37 24 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup Andrew Davis David Calvert-Jones Michael Avenatti
38 60 Ferrari F458 Italia Piergiuseppe Perazzini Marco Cioci Matt Griffin
39 93 SRT Viper GTSR Marc Goossens Tommy Kendall Jonathan Bomarito
40 27 Lola B12/87 Judd Dane Cameron Joe Foster Patrick Dempsey
41 34 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup Peter LeSaffre Damien Faulkner Brian Wong
42 37 Morgan/Nissan David Heinemeier Hansson Martin Plowman Eric Lux
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