By D. Brian Smith
Photography: Courtesy of ALMS (post production - Ben Moment)
A three-peat transpired at the 14th Petit Le Mans, which was a most dramatic end to the 2011 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron. Franck Montagny, Stephane Sarrazin and Alexander Wurz raced the Peugeot 908 Sport Total car to a third straight win at the Road Atlanta Petit Le Mans. Like last year and the year before, they waged an epic competition with Audi Sport Team Joest and secured yet another win against the four rings of Audi.
Audi Sport Team Joest and Peugeot Sport Total were nose and nose from the start of the race, as has often been the case for most iterations of the Petit Le Mans. The #7 Peugeot 908, driven by Sebastian Bourdais at the start, was the pole winner. Early in the competition, the #1 clad Audi R18, which Marcel Fassier drove at the early stages of the race, captured the lead from the #7 Peugeot, but not for long. Seconds before the first full-course yellow caution, Bourdais re- claimed the lead from Audi. Unfortunately for the not-so-lucky #7 Peugeot 908, the car had mechanical difficulties in the second hour of the contest and could not continue.
With the #7 Peugeot 908 Sport Total entry parked behind the wall and out of the race, it was up to the two remaining Peugeot cars and the two Audi cars to vie for the victory in the LMP classification, at least for a little while. Alan McNish, Dindo Capello and Tom Kristensen shared racing responsibilities for the #2 Audi R18 until that car fell out of the competition with several unrepairable mechanical problems. In a two against one effort in favor of Peugeot, the #10 Team Oreca-Matmut Peugeot 908 Hdi-FAP managed to achieve second place. Marc Gene, Nicolas Minassian and Nicolas Lapierre drove the Oreca-Matmut Peugeot with consummate skill. The #007 Aston Martin Racing AMR Lola Coupe B09 60, piloted by Adrian Fernandez, Harold Primat and Stefan Mucke would have made James Bond and Her Majesty's Secret Service proud, with a rock solid third place finish against the stiff competition from Peugeot and Audi.
The 10-hour, 1,000-mile race saw its most dramatic racing for the first seven hours of the contest between Peugeot and Audi. France and Germany were trading the lead back and forth throughout these two-thirds of the competition. Dumas in the Audi was just ahead of Montagny in the #8 Peugeot Sport Total 908 machine, when Montagny and Dumas touched at the entry to the backstraight section of the famed Road Atlanta track. The Audi crashed with the wall at Turn 8, which meant that the Peugeot entry had an open track for the remaining three hours of the competition.
In other class victories, AF Corse bested both Flying Lizard Motorsports and BMW Motorsports to capture the GTE-Pro win and the championship for the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup. In the GT Challenge driver and team championships, Black Swan Racing with Tim Pappas behind the wheel, successfully defended their championship. There was a three-way tie in the LMP Challenge driver's championship, with Eric Lux, Gunnar Jeannette and Ricardo Gonzalez in the tie. CORE autosport achieved its first LMPC team championship.
All in all, this was a Petit Le Mans for the record books. We can't wait to see what the 15th annual version of the Petit Le Mans will wind up being like. But, of course there will be much more ALMS racing occurring during the 2012 season, and you can be sure that Redline Review will be bringing you all the highlights. Stay tuned, ALMS fans. The plot thickens.
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