Eleven drivers who will race this weekend in Petit Le Mans powered by the Totally New MAZDA6 competed in the 1998 inaugural running of the 1,000- mile/10-hour sports car classic at Road Atlanta. Anthony Lazzaro is one of the 11 and vividly remembers the excitement Series and Event Founder Don Panoz generated when he announced his intentions to start an endurance race and organization based on the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

"I started racing there as early as 1981 in go-karts and had been going there as early as 1974 as a spectator," said Lazzaro, who lives in nearby Canton and will drive Black Swan Racing's Doran Ford GT-R with team owner Tim Pappas. They are looking to improve on a season-best, eighth-place class finish in the car's debut at Lime Rock in July.

"When Don finally did the first Petit Le Mans, I said, 'Wow, now we finally have a marquee event at this track,'" he added. "People lined up in traffic on Highway 53 outside the track. That was the first time I can remember that happening."

Lazzaro drove a Ferrari 333SP to a fifth-place overall finish with Mike Davies and Bill Dollahite in the first Petit Le Mans.

Saturday's race will mark his seventh start in the event and only the second time that he has not raced a Ferrari in Petit Le Mans. He has four GT2 podium finishes including runner-up finishes in 2000 (in an Alex Job Racing Porsche) and 2006 (in one of Risi Competizione's Ferrari F430 GTs). So this year's race will give Lazzaro starts for three different manufacturers. An open rulebook also allows for multiple tire manufacturers to compete, which is what drew Black Swan partner Falken Tires into the Series.

"Doing an event at Road Atlanta seems crazy anyway," he said. "It's one of the most challenging tracks I've ever driven. This year is a little different. The car isn't as competitive but this event is the biggest and most competitive I've ever seen. There should be something for everyone.

"The thing that drew me to sports car racing was the cars looked different and sounded different," Lazzaro added. "Now in so many series, all the cars look alike and sound alike. That's not the case in the American Le Mans Series. Falken has done a fantastic job in the development and I've been very impressed with it. I'm happy they are involved. It's the right place for them to be. There are very few series in the world with an open-tire series, and that's a rare thing these days. That's one of the things I like about the American Le Mans Series."

Petit Le Mans powered by the Totally New MAZDA6 is the 10th round of the 2008 American Le Mans Series. The 1,000-mile/10-hour race is scheduled for 11:15 a.m. Saturday, October 4 from Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga. SPEED will televise the race live with online streaming video available from 1 to 6:30 p.m. ET only at americanlemans.com. XM Satellite Radio will air live race coverage throughout the day on XM Channel 166. Live coverage from American Le Mans Radio will be available at americanlemans.com, which also will feature IMSA's Live Timing & Scoring.

-credit: alms