Saturday
Oct042008

Petit Le Mans: The Race

The 11th annual Petit Le Mans powered by the Totally New MAZDA6 has been action-packed one from the start, with numerous incidents highlighting the opening hours. Trackbytes.com is providing updates throughout the 1,000-mile/10-hour race, starting with the eventful opening two hours.

Hours 1 & 2

The race got off to an eventful start even before the drop of the green flag. On his reconnance lap, Allan McNish spun on cold tires, slamming into wall at the Esses. The Scotsman, who qualified the Audi on the front row, then was seen limping back to the pit lane. Immediately, the Audi Sport North America crew went to work on repairing the R10 TDI, mainly around the right rear corner. Moments after the wave of the green flag, McNish rolled from the paddock and joined the race, only two laps down.

photo by: John Thawley At the start, the No. 07 Team Peugeot Total 908 Hdi-FAP of Nicolas Minassian took over the lead, but an early race yellow for the stationary No. 30 Intersport Lola of Ryan Lewis brought out the first yellow with only two minutes complete.

The field went back to green on lap seven, but just 10 minutes later, there was major drama for Scott Sharp in the Patron Highcroft Racing Acura. Sharp drifted wide at Turn 10b and slid down the hill under the bridge, making contact on the left side of the car. However, Sharp got out of the car and walked to the ambulance, initially excluding the car. ACO rules state that a driver cannot go further than 10 meters from the car once unless it’s retired.

The Duncan Dayton-owned team protested this call as Sharp said he was forced away from the car. Thus, IMSA placed the car in the unoccupied outside pit road for Scott to repair himself. Crew members rushed across the bridge to assist in getting the car off the flatbed tow truck, but soon deemed the car un-repairable and retired the car. It’s a bitter blow to Sharp and co-driver David Brabham, who were four points behind LMP2 championship leaders Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas. 

When the green flew at the 43-minute mark, Danny Watts in the No. 50 Team LNT Ginetta-Zytek took over the overall lead, thanks to the pit stops by the leading Peugeot and No. 2 Audi. Watts held the top spot until making his first stop for service fifteen minutes later.

This gave the lead to the LMP2 class-leading No. 5 Penske Racing Porsche RS Spyder of Ryan Briscoe. But the Australian only held the top spot for five minutes as Marco Werner powered his way past the DHL-sponsored machine to take the overall lead.

photo by John Thawley

The third caution of the day came out for the No. 66 de Ferran Motorsports Acura of Gil de Ferran, who locked up his brakes and spun into China Beach at the one-hour and 23-minute mark.  This set up another round of pit stops, but Stephane Sarrazin, now in the No. 07 Peugeot, kept his French Lion in the lead. At the restart, a great battle developed for the top spot in P2.

As Romain Dumas and Franck Montagny were interlocked in a fierce fight for second overall, Stefan Johansson in the then-fifth place running Corsa Motorsports Ginetta-Zytek suffered a huge shunt at Turn 12, going straight into tire barriers. The prototype ended up stuffed on top of some tire barriers in the high-speed final corner. Johansson was uninjured, but said something broke in the left front of the car, causing him to go straight off. This big incident brought out another safety car, which brought a close to the second hour.

Finally, we’ve been given information regarding a protest issued by Patron Highcroft Racing. The team filed a protest against the five Porsche RS Spyders for allegedly using illegal fuel. Highcroft filed the protest in a timely manner prior to the race start, and fuel samples have been taken from the cars in question. Results will remain provisional until fuel analysis is completed.

Hours 3 & 4

Once cleanup for the crashed Corsa Motorsports Ginetta-Zytek was complete, Romain Dumas led the field to the green flag but quickly got passed by a hard-charging Allan McNish, who put himself back on the lead lap. The rapid Scotsman has now made up two laps after making the late start.

On the very same lap on the restart, Lucas Luhr in the No. 2 Audi powered his way by the Penske Porsche to retake the overall lead, but with Stephane Sarrazin closely in pursuit.

McNish continued on the tail end of the lead lap before pitting at the two-hour and 47-minute mark, handing over to Emanuele Pirro. McNish put in an amazing drive, all things considering.

“The car was perfect after the shunt,” McNish said of his crash on the recon lap. “The guys did a good job considering I thought we were out of the race. But the yellows fell our way throughout. The car either had a lot of torque with not enough heat or driver, one of the two.”

photo by John Thawley

Catching up on the tales from Intersport Racing, both cars were in the paddock undergoing repairs. The No. 30 machine of Ryan Lewis suffered electrical gremlins on lap 2, requiring the Englishman to get out of his car and diagnose the problem. He stayed clam throughout the incident and got the Judd-powered Lola back to the pits. Lewis rejoined the race at the two-hour and 15-minute mark and went on his way.

Intersport’s No. 37 car made it through the first 20 or so laps before breaking an a-arm. Jon Field limped the car back to the pits for repairs, which took close to two hours to complete.

Sharply at the three-hour mark, the safety car yet again comes out, this time for the No. 888 Creation Autosportif AIM of Dean Stirling, who crashed the British prototype into the tire wall in Turn 1. Moments before the caution, Franck Montgany had taken over the lead following Ryan Briscoe’s routine stop to hand over to co-driver Helio Castroneves.

However, once everyone made their stops under yellow, the Andretti Green Racing crew had a slow stop, giving way for Castroneves to take the overall lead. However, once the green flew, the Brazilian was forced to come back into the pits and serve a stop-go penalty for exceeding the pit lane speed during his stop.

photo by John Thawley The safety car was again deployed with three hours and 24 minutes complete when Tony Burgess stuffed the No. 12 Autocon Motorsports Lola into the wall at Turn 3. Castroneves elected to pit once again – taking only a right-rear tire and giving Christian Klien in the No. 07 Peugeot the top spot.

Once back to green, Klien got held up in traffic, giving Luhr the lead once again, with four hours now complete. Klien runs in second, with Timo Bernhard pacing the LMP2 category, running third overall.

The battle for GT2 honors has been in the favor of Farnbacher Loles for much of the early stages, but a spin at the four-hour mark dropped the No. 87 Porsche to third. Olivier Pla ran into Jorg Hardt, awarding the Ginetta-Zytek driver a stop/go penalty for avoidable contact. Championship leaders Flying Lizard Motorsports and it’s No. 45 Porsche of Marc Lieb now leads GT2.

The No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari also led early but had shifter problems. Since the early gremlin, Jamie Melo has worked his way back up to fifth in class, trailing the No. 45 car, No. 71 Tafel Racing Ferrari, No. 87 entry, and No. 44 Flying Lizard Porsche.

GT1 is led by the No. 4 Corvette Racing C6.R of Max Papis, who has a 17-second lead over the sister machine of Ron Fellows.

Hours 5 & 6

photo by John Thawley Team LNT’s day went from bad to worse when Pla was given a second penalty for excessive speeding on pit road. After serving that, the Frenchman came back in again, but this time for repair work to the left side of the Ginetta-Zytek.

There was another change for the lead 12 minutes in when Christian Klien got around Lucas Luhr. The diesel dogfight continued with the French Lion and the Silver Rings. What would you know? Another caution. Jim Tafel spun the No. 73 Ferrari right in front of the second-placed Luhr, a very lucky escape for the German. But once again, this brought out yet another yellow.

Teams elected to pit once more, with the Peugeot losing the most ground. Andretti Green Racing made the most of the pit work, getting Marco Andretti out in the lead. Audi Sport North America got Marco Werner in the No. 2 entry out in second, ahead of Romain Dumas’ Penske Racing Porsche RS Spyder in third and teammate Emanuele Collard in fourth. Klien’s Peugeot dropped all the way back to fifth, as the cars took the restart, 30 minutes past the fourth hour.

photo by John Thawley Klien wasted no time getting back to the front, with Andretti dropping from first to third in one lap. The Austrian Peugeot driver put the pressure on Werner’s Audi. It only took two laps for Klien to get back to the point, using the strength of the Peugeot HDi-FAP power to get around Werner for the lead.

On a side note, Marshall Pruett from SPEEDTV.com passes on some very interesting top speed figures taken from Friday’s practice. The No. 07 Peugeot was clocked at 200.2 mph on the back straight, compared to the best of the Audi’s, the No. 1 car, at 192.5 mph. The quickest P2 contender was that of the No. 7 Penske Porsche, running 183.7 mph, with the new No. 8 B-K Motorsports Lola Mazda coupe second quickest in P2 at 179.9 mph.

Indeed, that’s how the Peugeot is able to flex its muscle on the long back straight. “The Peugeot engine is good, isn’t it?” Nic Minassian said. “The car has really good straight line speed. That can only make things easier with things like that. If we can run away without making mistakes, you have to do it. Traffic is very hard but it is improving.”

Klien continued to show the way, but the five-second or so margin to Werner stabilized, and shortly after the fifth hour, the two diesel contenders pitted. Audi’s quick pit work once again prevailed, and Werner jumped ahead of the Minassian, who is now in the Peugeot. Werner extended his lead, getting through the traffic more efficiently than the French Lion.

Catching up in the GT2 action, the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsport Porsche of Jorg Bergmeister leads, with the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari of Jamie Melo continuing his charge back up the leaderboard to second. The Farnbacher Loles Porsche, which led the early stages, has dropped further back after more tire problems.

photo by John Thawley It’s worth noting that the No. 28 LG Motorsports Riley Corvette C6 has been an official retirement – overheating. Over at Panoz Team PTG, the Panoz Esperante has been fighting power steering issues while the Black Swan Racing Doran Ford GT-R is back on track after a shock mount problem.

The race has started to finally settle in with a long green-flag period, but just as we say that, the second-placed No. 4 Corvette Racing C6.R of Oliver Gavin slows on course and limps to the pits. The car spent a good amount of time in the pits with some sort of drive issue.

Meanwhile, the No. 6 Penske Racing Porsche RS Spyder has been scored as the Green Challenge leader in the prototypes so far, and the No. 3 Corvette Racing C6.R leading the way in the GT categories. 

Hours 7 & 8

After catching up with Corvette Racing, we found out that the No. 4 machine suffered a broken throttle linkage, costing Oliver Gavin seven laps and about nine minutes to the sister GT1 class-leading machine of Max Papis.

photo by John Thawley

Over at Intersport Racing, the No. 37 Lola B06/10 AER has called it quits after its engine block cracked, but its sister No. 30 car keeps rolling along, now up to fifth in the LMP1 class.

Promptly with six hours complete, race leader Marco Werner pitted, handing over controls to Lucas Luhr. This gave the top spot back to Nic Minassian in the No. 07 Peugeot. Five minutes later, Minassian ducked in for service, giving Luhr the lead back. The diesel lead-changing games continue.
   
Meanwhile, the battle for GT2 honors has heated up, with Mika Salo and Wolf Henzler fighting it out for the top spot in class. The two swapped the lead throughout the hour, with the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari holding the upper hand at the end of the eighth hour.

After the longest green flag run of the race, the safety car comes out at the six-hour and 35-minute mark, this time for the stationary No. 73 Tafel Racing Ferrari of Pierre Ehret. The leaders elect to pit, with Luhr retaining the lead.

photo by John Thawley

Moments after the green, big-time trouble struck the No. 15 Lowe’s Fernandez Acura of Luis Diaz, who slammed into the wall in Turn 2. Diaz limped the car back to the pits, but the LMP2 contender was later retired because of extensive damage.

The ALMS released an update on the positions in the Green Challenge after the completion of 300 laps. The leaders remain unchanged in both categories, with the No. 6 Penske RS Spyder leading the charge in the prototypes, and the No. 3 Corvette pacesetter in the GT categories. The No 007 Drayson-Barwell Aston Martin has moved into second in the production-based category after the misfortunes of the No. 4 Corvette.

While the field stayed green, Stephane Sarrazin, now in the Peugeot, once again took advantage of Road Atlanta’s long back straight to rocket past the Audi, once again taking the lead.

The Porsche RS Spyders, meanwhile, have continued to dominate LMP2, with an overheating Andretti Green Racing Acura the only other competitor that still has a shot at possible victory. In fact, Ryan Briscoe in the No. 5 Penske Racing Porsche inherited the lead before pitting himself to hand over to Helio Castroneves, giving the top spot back to, you guessed it, the No. 07 Peugeot.

It’s been a very competitive race so far, closer than many would have originally imagined. With the lead swapping hands during each round of pit stops, the outcome may all come down to the last stop strategy.

photo by John Thawley

The battle for GT2 honors couldn’t also be closer, with a two-horse race between the No, 45 Flying Lizard Porsche and No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari. If it wasn’t for Risi’s two-lap delay early on for a freak cockpit-related problem, the Prancing Horse would be comfortably be leading the way right now.

With 336 laps complete after eight hours, it’s expected the 1,000-mile race will run to its entirety and complete ahead of its 10-hour limit. Only 56 laps remain, equating to a little over an hour left. As the sun begins to set, the battle is on!

The Race to the End

photo by John Thawley Immediately, there’s drama for two GT2 contenders at the beginning of the eighth hour. First, the No. 007 Drayson-Barwell Aston Martin Vantage GT2 of Darren Turner grinds to a halt with no drive. The British-entered team had enjoyed its best race of the season, running as high as fourth. Moments later, Marc Basseng spun from an apparent punctured tire, slamming hard into the Turn 12 barriers. His VICI Racing. Basseng’s hard hit brought out the ninth safety car period of the race.

This set up an interesting strategy call with only 50 laps left. Most of the leaders elected to come in for service, but nearly all of them will have to still make another stop – at least a splash-and-dash.

The green waved at the eight-hour and 25-minute mark, but disaster struck seconds later. George Forgeois in the No. 30 Intersport Racing Lola B07/17 Judd spun and stopped in the middle of the hill entering Turn 12, and Patrick Pilet in the No. 46 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche caromed into Faulkner’s Lola head-on. Debris flew in all directions, which collected the LMP2 class-leading Andretti Green Racing Acura of Franck Montagny. All three drivers climbed from their cars and appeared to be uninjured.

Debris spread across the track forced the safety car to take the field through the pit lane while safety workers cleaned the surface. The caution stayed out for about 30 minutes, with the leaders pitting for service during the long yellow. The No. 1 Audi of Allan McNish took tires and fuel, while both the No. 07 Peugeot of Christian Klien and the No. 2 Audi of Marco Werner opted for diesel fuel-only.

photo by John Thawley As the green waved, the chase was on. McNish restarted from the third position, back on the lead lap for the first time of the race, and wasted no time moving up the leader board. The Scotsman got past teammate Werner for second then set his eyes on leader Klien. With 30 laps remaining, McNish made a daring move to take over the lead.

The thrilling three-way battle for the overall lead couldn’t be closer. But yes it could. It was for another safety car, this time for the stationary No. 11 Primetime Race Group Dodge Viper. The caution only lasted three laps and McNish rocketed away at the green, pulling out to a three-second lead by the start/finish line!

McNish extended his lead over Klien with the laps clicking down. But the Austrian Peugeot driver responded, slowly improving his times, but quickly running out of time. Nine laps remained, but McNish held it together, despite the late challenge put on by Klien.

McNish crosses the checkers after nine hours and 43 minutes of racing to take the overall win, an absolute thriller. He and co-drivers Dindo Capello and Emanuele Pirro have kept Audi’s Road Atlanta undefeated winning streak alive at nine years straight.

Peugeot’s Christian Klien, Nic Minassian and Stephane Sarrazin had to settle for second in what was a valiant battle right down to the final laps. LMP1 champions Marco Werner and Lucas Luhr come home in third.

In LMP2, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe led a Penske Racing 1-2-3 and a Porsche 1-2-3-4 in a very historic day for the Roger Penske-led organization. The RS Spyders outlasted the Acura contingent, but the results remain provisional pending the protest by Patron Highcroft Racing regarding the Porsche’s fuel.

With Romain Dumas and Timo Bernhard finishing second in class, the duo seal up the P2 drivers’ title, while the third-placed Penske duo of Sascha Maassen and Patrick Long take the inaugural Green Challenge Trophy.

The No. 3 Corvette Racing C6.R of Johnny O’Connell, Jan Magnussen and Ron Fellows dominated the GT1 category and also took GT honors in the Green Challenge.

In GT2, the Risi Competizine duo of Jamie Melo and Mika Salo nab their second win of the season but Flying Lizard Motorsports’ Jorg Bergmeister and Wolf Henzler secure the drivers’ title with their second place finish tonight.

Full report and analysis to follow…

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