Petersen/ White Lightning Falls One Spot Short of Historic Fairytale Finish
LE MANS, France, Sunday, June 19, 2005 -- It was nearly a French fairytale ending for the No. 90 Westward Ho Casino/ MMPIE/ PAWS/ Michelin Porsche 911 GT3 RSR here at Le Mans. However, the story would miss the happily ever after by one spot, as the team crossed the start-finish line second in GT2 class. To come in with a dominating performance in the Pre-Test in early June, as two-time defending champions in the class and with the victory at the 12 Hours of Sebring in March, the team was listed as a favorite for victory. However, an accident when the car snapped suddenly on Jorg Bergmeister's (Langenfeld, Germany) qualifying lap resulted in extensive damage, two very late nights leading into the longest day in motorsports and many scratching the team off as a contender. The Dale White-managed team kept its head down and rallied to show all doubters that Petersen Motorsports/ White Lightning Racing is among the best in the sport. Despite 275 man hours in repairs to the car from the incident and a tenth of that in sleep, Petersen/ White Lightning took it straight to the competition with pit stops that outperformed every other team in the race. Lap after lap Bergmeister, Timo Bernhard (Dittweiler, Germany) and Patrick Long (Las Vegas, Nev.) dispatched all but one competitor, the No. 71 Porsche entered by Alex Job Racing. The fairytale ended with a slight tinge of disappointment for the team that has come to expect the top result at Le Mans. However, the distance covered from Thursday night to Sunday afternoon showed more of the team than a pole-to-checker result ever could.
It was hard to imagine for anyone watching the Petersen Motorsports/ White Lightning Racing team toiling away in their Le Mans garage repairing their heavily damaged No. 90 Porsche until the early morning hours, that the team would have a legitimate shot at defending its 2004 GT2 (formerly GT) class victory in the 24 Heures du Mans. Even as Bergmeister (Langenfeld, Germany) took the French tri-color symbolizing the start of the 73rd Annual 24 Hours of Le Mans questions raised with a spiking temperature gauge and flat power curve. That was not to be the end of this small but strong team which currently sits on top of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) GT2 points title chase. 24 hours and 331 laps of the 8.48-mile Circuit de la Sarthe later, the No. 90 Porsche would come-up just two minutes short of making history as the first privately owned, American-based team to win three consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Despite early struggles through inclement weather in Wednesday's two, two hour practice/ qualifying sessions and an accident early in Thursday's second session that forced two late nights of repairs, the team rallied from sixth on the grid to take the race's early lead. It appeared that the day would be very short as a broken radiator pipe caused the team to miss the final ten minutes of the warm-up Saturday morning and high water and oil temperatures in the race's opening hour hampered movement to the front. However, the team focused on strategy and led its class at the world's most famous sports car race before the three hour mark. Throughout the race, and despite extensive repairs to the front frame structure of the Porsche as well as new radiators, radiator pipes, a new fender, new headlight assembly, new front bumper and several other repairs, the car never had to pit to repair a mechanical failure throughout the full 24 hours. That is a task that can't even be said for their two previous victories here.
Michael Petersen, owner: "Second place is not where the team wanted to finish. But we're happy with the result after all the adversity that the team had to overcome prior to the race and during the race. We had several problems, i.e. a crash in qualifying, which put us behind the eight ball in setup for the race. With the expertise of Stefan (Pfeiffer, engineer), Dale and myself we figured out a strategy to get the car setup in proper racing form. Even though we had a very weak motor, we were still able to finish second which is just OK. The guys put in many hours of the night oil and the drivers did the best they could with what they had. We're fairly satisfied with the result. We'll be back next year to take back the place we've become accustom to here at Le Mans: P1."
Dale White, team manager: "We're a little disappointed. We've been over here for 20 days and we came with one goal: to win. And, we didn't achieve that. But, when that frustration wears-off, I think we'll all have a better idea of just what we achieved here this week. On Thursday night we had a car that had a six inch gash in the frame. Today we have second-place in the world's most famous sports car race. That is pretty impressive no matter what you were hoping to accomplish."
Jorg Bergmeister, driver: "Honestly, I hoped that we could have been even better, even after Thursday, but I think the top speed was our biggest issue. I recognized it on the first stint. I think it is OK. It isn't three in a row for Petersen Motorsports/ White Lightning Racing but second place is good as well. Maybe next year we can win again."
Timo Bernhard: "The team did a very, very good job after the problems we had on Thursday. I was very happy that they were able to put the car together and the car was actually in very good shape. Overall, we were quite competitive and we were always on the tail of the 71 car. I was very proud to be a part of this team at Le Mans, 2005. I knew Stefan and Dale and so it was not hard to drop into the team. I just wish that we would win because then it would have been a perfect weekend. After all, let's say, it was not a bad result."
Patrick Long: "All-in-all it's successful. To come to and win at Le Mans my first time last year meant the bar was set high. Take that win last year away and I'd be thrilled. It was a tough race. Obviously the team did a great job. There were no unscheduled pit stops and that says a lot about the preparation after unfortunate incidents in qualifying. I can't say enough about our guys. Jorg and Timo were a class act as we expected. I didn't know what it would be like post-Thursday night. There were some mixed emotions when we had some problems in the first stint. But, once everything calmed down and we worked the bugs out, by my first stint the car felt fine. We gave it hell but came out second. The top-three teams not having any problems is pretty amazing. It was a pure sprint race all 24 hours. It was the toughest race of my life."