Things to watch for at Petit Le Mans

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This Saturday marks the 15th running of the Petit Le Mans at the undulating and winding Road Atlanta circuit in Braselton, Georgia. While the race will lack the blockbuster headliner of Audi versus Peugeot from years past, the racing will still be hotly contested in each class. Here are some storylines to keep an eye on throughout the race.

Will Muscle Milk secure their first ALMS championship?

Muscle Milk Pickett Racing’s HPD ARX-03a has been the class of the P1 field in the American Le Mans Series this year and the team is on the verge of their first series championship after narrowly missing out on titles the last two seasons. Luckily for them, things are a bit easier this year as all the team needs to do is reach the 70 percent mark of Saturday’s 1,000 mile race and the title is theirs. One would think that this would allow for the drivers to let up and go into “cruise” mode, but as any racer will tell you; the moment you let up is when mistakes happen. This fact won’t be lost on veteran sports car drivers Lucas Luhr, Klaus Graf and Romain Dumas. It will be interesting to see what sort of race pace they set especially with World Endurance Championship contenders, Rebellion Racing, making the trip over to take on America’s best.

#12 Rebellion Racing Lola B12/60 Toyota: Andrea Belicchi, Neel Jani, Nicolas Prost
#12 Rebellion Racing Lola B12/60 Toyota: Andrea Belicchi, Neel Jani, Nicolas Prost

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

How will Rebellion versus Muscle Milk play out?

Rebellion Racing has been one of Europe’s fastest privateer P1 teams for several seasons now and Muscle Milk Pickett Racing has quickly established themselves as a force to be reckoned with as well, so the potential battle between Muscle Milk’s HPD package and Rebellion’s Toyota powered Lola B12/60 will be exciting to watch as it unfolds. Rebellion has stated that their one and only reason to come to America for this race is to win it, so a blistering pace can be expected from them. Muscle Milk’s main objective will obviously be to secure the championship, but you better believe that they would love to put a stamp on their title campaign by going toe to toe with one of Europe’s finest teams and coming out on top.

Level 5 looks to wrap up P2 championship

#95 Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b HPD: Scott Tucker, Dario Franchitti, Marino Franchitti
#95 Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b HPD: Scott Tucker, Dario Franchitti, Marino Franchitti

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

Scott Tucker and Level 5 Motorsports find themselves in a similar situation to Muscle Milk Pickett Racing as they also need to reach the race’s 70 percent mark to wrap up the P2 championship. Level 5 has been known to employ some big name drivers and they will not be taking any chances in that department this weekend as they bring in Dario and Marino Franchitti to partner with Tucker in the #95 HPD. They will be pushed hard, however, by season-long rivals; Martin Plowman and David Heinemeier Hansson for Conquest Racing in their Nissan powered Morgan chassis. The battle between the two Level 5 Motorsports HPDs and Conquest’s sole Morgan will be bolstered by four LMP2 teams from the European Le Mans Series and the return of Patrick Dempsey’s Dempsey Racing Lola B12/87 after a two race hiatus from the series.

The return of the DeltaWing

No, that is not the title of George Lucas’s latest movie, but the unconventional DeltaWing certainly would not look out of place in one of Lucas’s films. Petit Le Mans sees the return of Ben Bowlby’s unique creation after making its debut at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The car made a successful maiden voyage and proved its skeptics wrong in the process by proving that yes, it does indeed turn and quite well at that. Unfortunately, the car met an early demise after being knocked off the circuit by one of the factory Toyotas early in the running.

#0 Nissan DeltaWing Project 56 Nissan: Lucas Ordonez, Gunnar Jeannette
#0 Nissan DeltaWing Project 56 Nissan: Lucas Ordonez, Gunnar Jeannette

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

At Le Mans the car showed great pace that rivaled some of the LMP2 entries, but it may have more of a difficult time at Petit given the nature of the circuit and the race itself. The DeltaWing requires a driving style where the driver has to brake fairly early and rely very heavily on “rolling speed” into the corner to make up for its less than stellar braking capabilities compared to the LMP entries. This type of driving style works great in qualifying, or at a long circuit like Le Mans where there is relatively little traffic to negotiate, but come race day with 43 cars on 2.54 miles of track it may prove difficult for the drivers to utilize this sort of driving style.

On Wednesday’s open test day at Road Atlanta, a slower GT Challenge Porsche made contact with the DeltaWing, sending the radical car into a flip. No one was injured but the DeltaWing was heavily damaged. Reports indicate that the car will return to the track for Thursday’s night practice.

GT as strong as ever

It seems GT racing has been the main attraction in the ALMS for quite some time now and Petit will be more of the same. While the championship has been wrapped up already for Corvette driver’s Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin, bragging rights and second place in the championship are still up for grabs and every team wants to end their season on a high note.

#3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1: Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor, #4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1: Oliver Gavin, Tom Milner, Richard Westbrook
#3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1: Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor, #4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1: Oliver Gavin, Tom Milner, Richard Westbrook

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

The SRT Vipers will make their return after skipping the championship’s last round at VIR, instead electing to test both cars at Road Atlanta for Petit. IMSA has thrown some help the snakes’ way by giving the cars a 20 kg weight break and allowing the rear wing to be mounted 75mm to help generate some extra down force. The GT grid will also be bolstered by ELMS GTE AM entries from AF Corse and IMSA Performance Matmut.

With the rules seemingly always changing in sports car racing, you can never be certain how long anything will be around, so be sure to appreciate what we have here in the ALMS’ GT category while we have it. It has truly been a golden age for GT racing in America.

All the action from the 15th Annual Petit Le Mans can be seen live and in its entirety at 11:15 AM EDT on ESPN3 this Saturday with ABC showing a highlights package on Sunday at 1 PM.

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About this article
Series ALMS
Article type Previews
Tags alms, bmw, corvette, delta wing, ferrari, honda, hpd, lola, nissan, petit le mans, porsche, road atlanta

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