- Sep 28, 2009
Spoiler Alert: Rain, Rain Go Away! Downpour makes Petit Le Mans even more so
2009 Petit Le Mans - Click above for high-res image gallery
The American Le Mans Series held its flagship race, the Petit Le Mans over the weekend at Road Atlanta, and it was more petit than normal. The race is scheduled to run for 10 hours or 1,000 miles – whichever comes first. However, the rains that have plagued the Atlanta region for the past two weeks just couldn't hold off any longer Saturday afternoon. After relatively clear running Thursday and Friday for practice and qualifying, the clouds returned Saturday for race time. After sporadic showers and drizzle throughout the first several hours, the clouds really opened up in the fifth hour.
The safety car came out for a full course yellow for a while, but the ground around the track was already waterlogged, making proper drainage impossible. With cars aquaplaning everywhere even on full rain tires, continued running became impossible and the race was red-flagged at 4 hours and 52 minutes in hopes the rain would subside. Unfortunately, it never did and the race was called at 9:30pm. Click on the jump to find out what happened while the cars were still running.
[Images: Chris Graythen/Darrell Ingham/Getty]
Prior to the rainout, the Petit Le Mans was proving to be yet another ALMS barn-burner of a race. After storming to the front row in qualifying on Friday, the diesel powered Peugeot 908 coupes demonstrated that they still have an outright speed advantage on the similarly powered open-top Audis. During the race, one of the Speed channel commentators mentioned that the Peugeots are actually allowed larger air restrictors than the Audis because the closed cars have to run an air conditioning system for the drivers. Apparently, the combination of the extra power and superior aerodynamics gives them a performance advantage even with a/c.
The two Audi racers started in the second row behind the French cars. The top qualifier in the GT ranks was a surprise, however, with the Robertson racing Ford GT outpacing the Chevrolet Corvettes, BMW M3s and Porsche 911s for a change.
When the green flag fell on Saturday, Audi driver Allan McNish managed to get the jump on the Peugeots and completed the first lap in the lead, which is where he and partner Dindo Capello would stay for all but five of the first 168 laps. The four diesel powered cars remained relatively close for four hours, in part because of sporadic showers on different parts of the track. However, when the skies opened up in hour five, McNish made an uncharacteristic mistake after a couple of laps behind the safety car. The Scot spun and lost position to the Peugeots, and thanks to the weather he never had the opportunity to recover.
In GT, the new GT2 Corvette C6.Rs qualified third and seventh with the number 4 car of Olivier Beretta and Oliver Gavin being ahead of the O'Connell/Magnussen machine. The Corvettes led much of the first three hours of the race before falling back during pit stops. When the rains started, both cars switched to rain shoes, but O'Connell aquaplaned off into the gravel on his out lap getting stuck. After a tow out, he made it back to the pits where the car was checked and deemed fit to continue. Unfortunately, the weather also prevented the Corvettes from recovering position.
Throughout all of this, the Risi Ferrari F430 of Jaime Melo and Mika Salo worked its way up from 10th qualifying position in GT to the lead position, which is where it was when the red flag was thrown. A lap behind the Ferrari was the BMW M3 of Jorg Meuller and Dirk Meuller with the Henzler/Werner Farnbacher-Loles Porsche 911 GT3 RSR filling out the podium.
One more race remains in the 2009 season October 8-11 at Laguna Seca.