While Petit Le Mans remains one of the most important events on the North American motorsports calendar, there were some big names absent from the field at Road Atlanta. Peugeot, having dropped funding for its Le Mans program, wouldn't be around to defend their overall wins from the past three years. Audi, with the World Endurance Championship dropping Petit Le Mans from their calendar and no Peugeot to battle, decided to forgo the trip across the Atlantic as well.
Even so, the field of cars for Petit Le Mans remained strong thanks to the European Le Mans series making the 1,000 mile endurance race their season finale as well. The Europeans proved to be quick, with the Rebellion Racing Lola-Toyota taking the overall pole position and the Morgan-Nissan of Oak Racing took the top qualifying spot in P2.
Adding some extra flair to this year's race was the addition of the Nissan DeltaWing, making its first competition appearance in North America. Despite having a scary crash on Wednesday and undergoing extensive repairs, the DeltaWing proved to have significant pace throughout practice and qualifying.
Scroll down for a full race report from the 2012 Petit Le Mans, and check out our exhaustive gallery of high-res images above.
The Muscle Milk Picket Racing HPD ARX-03a, having been out-qualified handily by the Rebellion Racing Lola-Toyota on Friday, wasn't the overall favorite for the race but was the likely winner for the season championship. The team needed to finish just 70 percent of the total race distance to wrap up the title. That sounds easy enough, but the championship was in jeopardy just an hour into the race. Driver Lucas Luhr made contact with a Porsche 911 GT3 running in the slower GTC class going into turn two, putting the prototype into the wall with damage to the suspension and body. At that point we assumed the race was over for the points leaders, but the car was towed back to the pits and after a little more than an hour was back on track.
"The way the (Muscle Milk crew) acted in the pits and the way they stuck together, they focused on getting the car back out," said Luhr after the race. "You can be, as a driver, proud to be part of something strong."
Luhr and fellow drivers Klaus Graf and Romain Dumas managed to safely navigate the HPD ARX-03a through the rest of the race, finishing in third place in P1 and well past the 70-percent threshold.
With the Muscle Milk team out of the picture, that left the Rebellion Racing trio of Neel Jani, Andrea Belicchi and Nicolas Prost to cruise to a three-lap win. The Dyson Racing team, suffering several troubles of their own in their Lola-Mazda, finished second in class.
Like the Muscle Milk team in P1, the Level 5 Motorsports team needed to finish just 70-percent of the race distance to earn points and take the 2012 title in P2. The team did that and more, with drivers Scott Tucker, Christophe Bouchut and Luis Diaz driving their HPD ARX-03b to the class win and finishing second overall.
"We've been through this before with our first Prototype Challenge championship (in 2010) that came down to the last race," said Tucker. "We knew 70 percent would be no easy task."
Level 5's second car, driven by Tucker, Dario Franchitti and Marino Franchitti, finished not far behind for second in class and third overall. The TDS Racing Oreca-Nissan piloted by Mathias Beche, Pierre Thiriet and Christophe Tinseau finished in third.
Despite the GT championship having been secured by Corvette Racing prior to the race, the GT class was perhaps the most hotly contested in the race. The Ferrari duo of Extreme Speed Motorsports qualified 1-2 with BMW, Corvette, Viper and Porsche closely behind.
The No. 01 Ferrari driven by Johannes van Overbeek, Scott Sharp and Toni Vilander looked to be the favorites throughout, but were constantly pressured by the No. 4 Corvette and the No. 55 BMW M3. However, late delays in the form of suspension problems and a stop-and-go-penalty for the Corvette and BMW respectively provided enough of a gap for the Ferrari to take home the win by half a minute.
While not competing for the overall win, the SRT Viper two-car team and Alex Job Racing Lotus Evora had impressive outings. The fastest Viper qualified in sixth and finished in eighth, while the Lotus crossed the finish line in eleventh. The results were impressive for both teams, considering how each of the brand new cars started their seasons.
While not competing for a class win, the Nissan DeltaWing was undoubtedly the car to watch at this year's Petit Le Mans. After Wednesday's crash and subsequent repair, the DeltaWing qualified with the ninth fastest time and was on par with most of the P2 class. While simply finishing the race was the ultimate priority, drivers Gunnar Jeannette and Lucas Ordonez did more than that by running as high as third and crossing the finish line in fifth place overall.
"The car was fantastic to drive, Michelin did a great job with the tires and we've been working really hard on developing the entire package," said Ordonez after the historic finish. "We've shown everyone in motorsport that the car is really strong and fast. I'm really proud to cross the line at the finish and I'm now ready to celebrate with the guys."
For the full list of results from the 2012 Petit Le Mans click here, and you can see the final standings for the 2012 ALMS season here.