Road Atlanta: Series race report

Peugeot won Petit Le Mans powered by MAZDA 2 on Saturday, this time running the full 1,000 miles. A year after the French manufacturer won a rain- shortened race at Road Atlanta, the trio of Franck Montagny, Stephane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy...

Peugeot won Petit Le Mans powered by MAZDA 2 on Saturday, this time running the full 1,000 miles. A year after the French manufacturer won a rain- shortened race at Road Atlanta, the trio of Franck Montagny, Stephane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy scored a 61-second victory in their diesel-powered Peugeot 908 HDi. They led a second straight 1-2 finish for the 908s in the cornerstone event for the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron.

The second Peugeot of Anthony Davidson, Marc Gene and Alexander Wurz placed second after winning the season-opening race at Sebring. The Sarrazin car pitted with 34 minutes left without losing the lead to its sister car. Sarrazin and Montagny were winners in last year's race.

"Last year we proved we were fastest, we didn't get to go to the end of the race but we really think and knew that we were fastest last year," said Montagny, who set the fastest race lap Saturday. "The results we got last year we didn't get to prove it. But this year, we had the same team, same car, and knew we could pull it out again."

The two Peugeots combined to lead 299 of the 394 laps. Audi Sport Team Joest's Audi R15 TDI finished third, two laps down. Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Dindo Capello teamed together, and the Audi suffered a late-race puncture that foiled any chances for victory.

There were nine caution periods but none over the last 106 laps. The battle wowed the record-breaking crowd of more than 124,000 race week fans.

"It's always a difficult race with the traffic," said Lamy, who said Saturday was his last race in the Peugeot. "We knew we had to be fast through it. We knew there'd be a lot of safety cars. So I'm really happy with it."

"The team did a great job, and we improved a lot in the strategy," Sarrazin said. "We did a lot of good times. It was a tough time with all the safety cars. We worked hard all week setting up the car. It was really good with such good balance. It was just perfect."

Peugeot also finished 1-2 for the second consecutive race in the new Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, the global championship from the Automobile Club de l'Ouest. With one race remaining in China, Peugeot leads Audi by 14 points.

In LMP2, Patron Highcroft Racing capped a second-straight championship season with a class victory for David Brabham, Simon Pagenaud and Marino Franchitti. Brabham and Pagenaud won the LMP championship. Honda Performance Development won the class manufacturer championship.

"To win Petit Le Mans... it's a classic, one of the biggest in the world," said Pagenaud, who won his first career Series title. "The PHR team was fantastic all weekend. The car was perfect, but it was like driving a video game all day. It's great to be champion and thanks to my teammates for their brilliant work. Without them I wouldn't be here today. This was a chance to work with them and I have enjoyed it so much."

In the MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge competition for LMP cars, Drayson Racing's cellulosic E85-powered Lola-Judd was the winner with drivers Paul Drayson and Jonny Cocker. The award goes to the car that best demonstrates overall performance and energy efficiency.

The Muscle Milk Team CytoSport Porsche RS Spyder of Klaus Graf, Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr placed second in class. The car ran on seven cylinders throughout the day which hampered its pace. The team entered with a chance to win the class title if PHR had finished with zero points. But the Highcroft HPD took the class lead on the 18th lap and never trailed again.

It was a fitting end to the season for the class' most consistent team. The Duncan Dayton-owned team never finished off the class podium.

"It's fantastic to be up here, and thanks to Duncan for this opportunity to drive with this team this year," Franchitti said. "And thanks to David and Simon, they've been great partners this year. I'm beside myself. It's been a great day. I feel great helping these guys and I feel like part of the championship today."

Oak Racing, which made its first start in the Series, placed third. Jacques Nicolet, Patrice Lafargue and Frederic Da Rocha placed third in their Pescarolo-Judd.

The victory was PHR's first since the Mid-Ohio round in August. The season- long battle was incredibly difficult with five different LMP race-winning teams.

"To be sitting here as double champions, with the team and with Simon and Marino who did a stellar job this year... it's great," said Brabham, who won the 2009 LMP1 title with Patron Highcroft. "Look back at all the races and see how hard the team has worked. We finished on the podium in every race. CytoSport and Klaus (Graf) and their whole team did a great job. They really pushed us this year. And the rest of the paddock has worked well together this year."

The GT2 battle was as tense as expected. Corvette Racing won for the first time this season when Risi Competizione's Ferrari F430 GT stopped with two turns remaining and out of fuel. Oliver Gavin drove by Toni Vilander and won with Jan Magnussen and Emmanuel Collard in their Corvette C6.R. It broke an 11-race winless streak for Corvette.

The victory meant that Corvette, Porsche, Ferrari and BMW all won races in the class this year.

"It was a fantastic race," said Magnussen, who has won in every ALMS season. "We know we did our best, but we know we have to go away and work a little more. One win in one year is for sure not enough for us. We were close so many times but made some mistakes so we're happy it finally went our way today."

Gavin saw a car stopped at Turn 10 but wasn't sure which Ferrari he had gone by. Even when he took the checkered flag, it was a mystery to him.

"I kept asking, 'Was that the leader? Was that the leader?' No one would answer me," Gavin said. In Turn 1 they came on the radio and said, 'We won!' I would have loved to have seen the look on the crews faces when we did win because they have worked so hard all season really trying to get in the Winners' Circle. So to win this one was big for us."

Extreme Speed Motorsports finished second with Dominik Farnbacher, Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek sharing a Ferrari. Vilander was credited in third place with Gianmaria Bruni.

BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team placed fourth with one of its two BMW M3 GTs, good enough for the GT manufacturer championship for the German marque and team title for RLR.

"If anyone doubted there isn't drama in motor racing... just look at this GT2 class this season," said BMW/RLR principal Bobby Rahal. "A great team is a great team regardless of where you compete, so I think we showed we belong in endurance racing as well as Indy car racing. And next year is going to be just as tough as this year. We know next year will be crazy. We're really excited now to come back because the competition will be even better."

The team's No. 92 BMW M3 GT of Dirk Werner, Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand won the GT portion of the MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge.

Porsche's 911 GT3 R Hybrid, running in the event unclassified, finished an impressive 18th overall. Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Mike Rockenfeller drove the car in its North American debut.

Flying Lizard Motorsports' Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister placed fifth in their Porsche 911 GT3 RSR and won their second straight class driving title. They won four times on the season, the most in class.

"The theme was competition. This was a field like we had never seen before," said Long, who won his third Series title. "Whoever won this thing would be riding a high. BMW and Corvette have added so much to this rivalry between Ferrari and Porsche. Those guys are just tough on the track and off the track. This is the sweetest championship for me in my career."

"It was definitely an unbelievable season," said Bergmeister, who claimed his fifth championship and third in a row." I would have never expected at the beginning of the year to win this championship. Its' a shame we didn't win the team championship because we wouldn't be here without them. They did a fantastic job giving us a great car all season. It was a pleasure to drive for the Lizards."

In LMP Challenge, Level 5 Motorsports won in class and claimed the first season championship. Scott Tucker, Marco Werner and Burt Frisselle took the LMPC race victory in their ORECA FLM09 with Tucker winning the driving title. Intersport Racing's Kyle Marcelli, and Chapman and David Ducote placed second in class.

The winning Level 5 car started fifth in class but moved into podium position just past the half-hour mark. It swapped the lead with the Green Earth Team Gunnar entry and Intersport's FLM09.The Level 5 car took the lead for good just past the five-hour mark and never trailed. The only hiccup was a late-race oil leak that required a couple of stops.

"We had a bit of adversity that we were able to overcome with our team," Tucker said. "It was a busy day, that's for sure. I don't think my co- drivers put a wheel off today, and my hat's off to them. Besides winning Sebring, this is one of my biggest wins. There were a lot of ups and downs when the 55 car (Level 5's other car) was having troubles. But we saw our competitors also were having issues, otherwise I might have gotten worried a bit."

PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports came home third with the driving trio of Luis Diaz, Ricardo Gonzalez and Ryan Lewis.

"This is such a phenomenal event, and to participate with a team like Level 5 and be a part of what Scott has put together and in a fashion that we did it in is great," Frisselle said. "We had a lead, we had to protect it and get the championship for Scott."

TRG won in GT Challenge, but Black Swan Racing won the team championship as did BSR's Tim Pappas and Jeroen Bleekemolen in the driver standings. The TRG Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car of Andy Lally, Henri Richard and Duncan Ende won by 5.283 seconds over the Black Swan Porsche for the team's second win of the year.

The TRG and Black Swan entries swapped the class lead throughout the race. Lally took the lead at the start and led for the first 73 laps. The Black Swan car led the majority of the middle portion - 219 laps all together - before Lally and TRG took the lead for good on Lap 336.

"We worked hard all season after Sebring and focused again," Richard said. "Now today we put it all together and brought it home. My job was to protect the car and keep it on the track. Hats off to the team for doing a great job, really looking forward to next season and trying to be more successful next year."

Magnus Racing, making its first Series start, placed third with the trio of Andrew Davis, John Potter and Ryan Eversley.

The championship for Pappas and Bleekemolen - who drove with Sebastiaan Bleekemolen on Saturday - seemed unlikely at the start of the year. The pairing missed Sebring and finished eighth at Long Beach before winning four times in five races. They never finished worse than second over the final seven events.

"Even though we didn't win the race we still had to focus," said team owner Pappas. "We had a problem and couldn't do anything to maintain our lead. But the guys worked really, really hard. Things happen like that in racing. I think it will hit tomorrow that we've won."

"It's great to be disappointed with a second place at a race like this, because after the first two races we would have been so excited just for that," Jeroen Bleekemolen said. "It was great that this (opportunity) came up this year. I had a lot of fun because were pushing each other so hard at every race."

The 2011 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron will open with the 59th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida on Saturday, March 19. The race also will serve as the opening round of the 2011 Intercontinental Le Mans Cup.

-source: alms

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