2011 ALMS FINALE AT PETIT LE MANS
After garnering two podiums on two continents in only six days, professional race car driver and entrepreneur, Chapman Ducote, wrangled his exhaustion and was ready for more. Helmet in hand, Ducote made his way to Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia, for the finale of the 2011 American Le Mans Series (ALMS) season, the 14th Annual Petit Le Mans presented by Tequila Patron. For this grueling 10 hour/1000 mile endurance race, Ducote teamed up with his brother, David Ducote, long-time teammate, Kyle Marcelli and Tomy Drissi, in the Intersport Racing #89 LMPC to join an incredibly crowded field of 54 other race cars who had travelled from all over the world to rub shoulders with the best.
With days of practice sessions, mandatory night practice, autograph sessions, and a qualifying session, Petit Le Mans is not only an long race, but also requires almost an entire week of time and devotion from the teams and drivers before the race even begins. This year, the drama began early for the Intersport team, during a morning practice session on Friday, September 29, 2011, when David Ducote took to the track in the #89 LMPC. Into Turn One, after the long front straight where the race cars reach maximum speed, a Ferrari “shut the door” on the #89 car by turning into the corner too sharply and cutting David off. This contact sent David spinning to the east side of the track where his car stalled out in the absolute worst place to land. Trying to get his car re-started, David didn’t even see the Robinson Ford GT coming. Flying into Turn One in 5th gear, the Ford GT-40 had nowhere to go and t-boned the #89 LMPC at around 150 mph. It took the corner workers twenty agonizing minutes to pull David from the wreckage and he was immediately airlifted to a hospital in Atlanta.
This shock dealt a serious blow to the Intersport team. With David injured, and the #89 LMPC car completely destroyed with unknown dollars in damage the day before the race and only hours before the qualifying session, the team spirits were at an all-time low.
“We were all in complete shock over what happened to David. The team was ready to pack it up for the weekend, when we finally got word from Atlanta that David would make it and in fact had no serious injuries,” Chapman Ducote said. “David is a natural born competitor, and it suddenly dawned on me that he would be far more upset that the GT-40 took us out of the race than that he got his bell rung. He would want us back on the track wrecking havoc and taking a shot at the podium.”
With this realization in hand, the Intersport Racing team rolled their back-up car, the #37 LMPC, off the trailer, re-badged it as the #89 LMPC car and began to prepare it for the qualifying session. Although the Intersport mechanics had only a few hours to work on the car, compared to the competition who had been fine-tuning their cars for almost a week, the team agreed not to go down without a fight. Marcelli took the wheel for qualifying and although he had no time to adjust to the newly configured car, he somehow, incredibly, set down the fastest lap in qualifying against the largest field of LMPCs in the 2011 season. This unbelievable feat won pole position for Intersport as well as the respect of the entire ALMS paddock.
In the first of what was to become an incredible succession of highs and lows during the race weekend, the team’s joy quickly plummeted to outrage. Hours after Marcelli set down the fastest lap in the qualifying session, pole position was stripped from the Intersport team. The newly badged #89 car was relegated to last position on the starting grid due to the technical infraction of a rule that requires all cars to go through inspection prior to qualifying. The circumstances surrounding this penalty made it sting all the more. Unbelievably, the stewards had actually given Intersport the thumbs up to qualify and get inspected after the session, provided the car came straight for inspection following the session. However, another slower team with a case of sour grapes protested the pole position and pulled out the rulebook which forced the stewards into a difficult position and led to the retraction of Intersport’s fairly won pole position.
Race day dawned bright and clear, and as the team gathered around the #89 LMPC car on the starting grid they were surprised to see David Ducote, gingerly picking his way through the crowd, sore and bruised, but otherwise intact. Upon release from the hospital, where he was held for 24 hours, David had made his way straight to the track to encourage the team, his presence having the full force and effect of a high-school pep-rally.
Marcelli agreed to drive the first stint of the 10 hour race, determined to catapult the #89 car into a competitive position. And, catapult he did: from last to first place in the LMPC pack in an astonishing 11 laps! After three solid hours of dog-fight driving, an exhausted Marcelli handed off the car to Chapman Ducote still in first place. Unfortunately, however, there hadn’t been time for a tire change, so Ducote took the wheel with tires going on their forth stint. With very little grip, Ducote battled through his laps for almost two full hours, before the team called him into the pits during a yellow flag that provided a strategic moment to change tires while the rest of the field of cars were forced to a reduced speed. During this stop, Marcelli jumped back in the car for an additional one hour stint, before handing the car over to Tomy Drissi in first place. Drissi drove hard for two hours and maintained the first place position, handing the car for the last time back to Marcelli for the last two and a half hours. Marcelli kept his head down and developed a 53 second lead over the P2 LMPC as the sun set over Braselton, Georgia. An hour before the end of the race, the #89 LMPC pulled into the pits for a last “splash and go” of gas that would carry them until the end, and just as they re-entered the track with a 30 second lead, an accident on the track brought out a yellow flag. This full course caution condensed the field of cars, narrowing the #89 LMPC’s lead to a mere six seconds. Marcelli held the lead until the last lap, when the #52 LMPC car freight-trained two LMP1 cars in the dark and snuck past the Intersport LMPC, taking the win by less than a second.
“It felt like someone had punched me in the stomach!” Chapman Ducote exclaimed. “We led for most of the race, and then to lose in literally the last second after almost ten hours of racing was very tough to take. In the end, however, David wasn’t seriously injured, we won a podium, and I added to my world championship points. All in all, I’d say this is probably the best season I’ve had in my Le Mans career.”
The 14th Annual Petit Le Mans was full of ups and down for Intersport Racing, but it ended with a podium finish and a hard-earned celebration for the exhausted team. With their racing suits still soaked in champagne from the 2011 ALMS season finale, the Intersport Racing drivers lost no time and began making plans for the 2012 season.
Keep an eye out for Chapman Ducote as he returns in full force for the 2012 American Le Mans Series season. For the first race on the 2012 calendar, Ducote will travel to Sebring, Florida for the 60th Anniversary Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring set to begin on Saturday, March 17, 2012 at 10:30 am. This endurance race not only kicks off the ALMS season, but also serves as the first round of the newly forged 2012 FIA World Endurance Championship, which will attract new teams and manufacturers from all over the world to the small town of Sebring, Florida and one of the world’s most demanding race tracks. Don’t miss a moment of the action!