BRASELTON, GA. - When invitations for the 72nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans were issued last week, no racing team in the world was more excited and relieved to have been selected than American Le Mans Series regular Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing.
The team, based in Las Vegas, Nev., will field a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR in the GT class of the world's most famous endurance race when it is run at France's Le Circuit de La Sarthe June 12-13. Running in conjunction with ALMS rival team Alex Job Racing, the team won last year at Le Mans, and hopes to do so again this year as it runs on its own. The team will announce its driver lineup in the very near future.
"I'm definitely excited about returning with my team and hopefully carrying on the success of last year," said Michael Petersen, team owner. "Le Mans has been a dream of mine forever and I know all the guys are very excited. We are all looking forward to the overall experience of returning to Le Mans."
Due to being based in the western part of the United States, the Petersen team had to make some extra preparations for Le Mans even before leaving its home base to compete in the recent Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the event that opened the 2004 American Le Mans Series season. All teams competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans have to be in France to take part in the traditional Pre-Test on April 25. The test is a week earlier this year than it has been in recent years.
The team's transporter and race car are already on the way to Europe, having been placed on a ship in Brunswick, Ga., on March 24. The ship will port in Spain, where a European driver will pick up the transporter and drive it to Le Mans.
"The ACO moved up the date of the pre-test," said Dale White, team manager. "And because we are shipping our transporter over there, we had to be totally prepared to go before we even left Las Vegas to come to Sebring. There are teams that are air-shipping their stuff over there and back but that isn't an option for us.
"We want to work out of our truck (at Le Mans)," he said. "It already has all the things you have in the drop drawer of your kitchen that you don't want to pack but you want over there. So it was important to us. It was a big task to prepare all at once for 36 hours of racing, especially when they are an ocean apart."
The team spent Sunday and Monday after the Sebring race cleaning and cataloging every detail of the transporter for shipment to France. Because of the extensive customs requirements, every nut and bolt has to be cataloged. The team also had its uniforms dry-cleaned in Sebring and loaded them onto the transporter, and also prepared and re-stocked all of its pit equipment and transporter cabinets. Other items such as Michelin tires, Mobil 1 oil and race fuel will be acquired at Le Mans.
Though the team has one of the 2004 model Porsche race cars, it elected to save the new car for Le Mans and race an older, proven Porsche 911 GT3 RS at Sebring. The car, which is the same vehicle that won at Le Mans last year and in the Road America round of the ALMS, finished third at Sebring. The choice to save the new car for Le Mans eliminated the need for servicing the car after it completed the grinding 12 hours of racing at Sebring.
After Le Mans, the Petersen team will immediately be back in the American Le Mans Series mode. The Porsche 911 RSR will be flown from France to the United States and brought to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the June 25-27 resumption of the ALMS schedule, and the team has already packed the Sebring car (as a backup) and the equipment necessary for the Mid-Ohio race into a smaller transporter that is remaining in America. The main transporter will arrive back in the USA on Tuesday following the Mid-Ohio race and will be available for the event the following week at Lime Rock Park.
"The guys did a terrific job," said White. "When we did our final preparations before taking the trailer to board the ship, we didn't find anything that we needed that we didn't have all ready to go. I'm pleased that we were invited to Le Mans on our own merit to participate with our own team this year. It's an honor to compete at Le Mans but we are coming to win. I feel that we are prepared."