Sebring: Petersen/White Lightning Racing race report

SEBRING, Fla., March 18, 2006 -- It came across the start-finish line battered, beaten and missing its nose, but it came home. In one of the toughest days in recent Petersen Motorsports/ White Lightning Racing history, the team rallied to come...

SEBRING, Fla., March 18, 2006 -- It came across the start-finish line battered, beaten and missing its nose, but it came home. In one of the toughest days in recent Petersen Motorsports/ White Lightning Racing history, the team rallied to come from two substantial obstacles to earn seventh in GT2 class at the 54th Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. At one point the No. 31 MMPIE/ PAWS/ Michelin Porsche 911 GT3 RSR had dropped to 11th in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) class but, through remarkable teamwork, fought back to take 17th overall with drivers Jorg and Tim Bergmeister (both of Langenfeld, Germany) and Nic Jonsson (Buford, Ga.). To be running at the finish, which the Michael Petersen-owned operation has done in 93% of its career ALMS races, was the result of teamwork.

Issues struck each driver during their time behind the wheel. First, Jorg Bergmeister had just moved into the class lead at the four hour mark from his fifth-place starting position when the left rear suspension began to fail. The team made a remarkably quick 20-minute change of the lower control arm and sent brother Tim out for the first time of the race. Adding injury to aggravation, Crew Chief Dennis Chizma (Las Vegas) sprained his right ankle early in the stop. Unable to perform tire changing duties thereafter, the crew put together an alternative plan by moving several members to new positions in the stop. They even pressed honorary pit crew member Zach Nieves (Greenville, SC), himself a high school student who had never attended a race, into duty. The team barely missed a step in the process performing impressive pit stops from then out.

Tim Bergmeister would be the second to be struck by misfortune. At the race's ten hour, 24-minute mark, the elder of the two brothers spun on what is believed to be oil or sand and made substantial contact with the Sebring International Raceway's turn 17 wall. The resulting damage included a destroyed nose, two broken radiators, a slightly bent hood, destroyed driver-side headlight and the front clip/ frame. Again, the team came together and worked flawlessly to make the needed repairs in just 23 minutes. Even Chizma, his ankle painful and swelling, jumped back over the pit wall and went to work. They maintained their seventh-place standing in the process.

Jonsson's issues would come as a result of the earlier incident. Due to the damage to the frame, the crew was not able to re-mount the nose to the Porsche. Therefore, the undertray (the underside of the car) was left open and unsupported at its leading edge. The result was that it beat against the frame of the car making driving difficult. The lack of the nose harmed overall downforce limiting Jonsson's lap times and causing one spin. A second stop to repair a leak in driver-side radiator also gave the team a chance to secure the undertray. That stop took place in nine minutes. In all, the team made 12 pit stops. They finished 27 laps down to the leader and spent 53 minutes making repairs.

Quotes

Mike Petersen, Team Owner: "Today's race was probably not the best way to start the season. But, I have to hand it to the crew guys because without their hard work and perseverance they really put the car back together and limped home to the end. We were always in the top-three positions, had the problems, went down and started clawing our way back up. The second set of problems pretty much sealed our fate but the guys never gave up. We'll get this behind us and start off on a better foot at Houston."

Dale White, Team Manager: "I'm just really proud of all the guys. They all worked as a team today and kept the car out on the track. We picked-up several positions. We had a really, really fast race car. The drivers stayed at it and did their quick laps. I'm just really proud of the team. They really pulled together."

Jorg Bergmeister, driver: "Tough luck with the suspension problem we had. We had a really quick car, especially in the night time. I think we had a car to go for a win, or at least P2. The Panoz was really quick in the straight line. Overall, the guys did a great job. I have to look forward to the next race and forget about the next one. The Ferrari will be really strong and so will the Panoz. At least compared to the other Porsches we are really competitive.

Tim Bergmeister, driver: "The race was a little difficult. On the last stint I braked on back straight and the car just went right into the wall. I think there must be some oil or something because it was really quick getting into the wall and the Ferrari went off there. I just couldn't do anything. I was getting faster and faster so I think it was OK. Jorg is very quick and I need to improve a lot but he has a lot of experience with the RSR. I think I will get there."

Nic Jonsson, driver: "I want to thank all the guys at Petersen/ White Lightning. This was about the crew. They did just a great job. We didn't get the result that we wanted but we earned a top-ten. That will help the team in the championship. We had a car capable of winning but just had some bad luck. I look forward to races later this year with these guys."

-pm/wlr

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Series ALMS