Road Atlanta: Horag Racing race report

Horag Racing Finishes on the Podium at Petit Le Mans Saturday BRASELTON, Ga., Sept. 30 - Last year's Petit Le Mans was a bad dream for the Horag Racing team. Luckily the 2006 version of one of the cornerstone events of the American Le Mans ...

Horag Racing Finishes on the Podium at Petit Le Mans Saturday

BRASELTON, Ga., Sept. 30 - Last year's Petit Le Mans was a bad dream for the Horag Racing team.

Luckily the 2006 version of one of the cornerstone events of the American Le Mans Series turned out to be completely the opposite, and the team will return to Switzerland with the third-place trophies for its class, LMP2, after its performance at Road Atlanta Motor Sports Center here Saturday.

Belgium native and Scottsdale, Ariz., resident Didier Theys; Fredy Lienhard Sr. of Niederteufen, Switzerland; and Eric van de Poele of Belgium kept the team's Lista-sponsored Lola R05/40 Judd out of trouble and in the hunt throughout Saturday's 1,000-mile event on Road Atlanta's demanding 2.54-mile, 12-turn road course.

It was a marked contrast to their experience at last year's race. Another competitor crashed into their car during the first hour of the first day of practice last year, causing damages that were too extensive to repair at the track. The team had to load up its equipment and ship everything back to Europe without even attempting to qualify.

Things went better this year; much better, in fact.

Theys qualified fourth in class but the car rose as high as second by hour two and stayed there until it slipped to third at the four-hour mark. It was fourth at the halfway point of what turned out to be a 394-lap/nine-hour-and-17-minute event. Two hours later it was still in fourth, but by the eight-hour mark it was back in third. It finished in that spot, trailing only the two factory-backed Penske Porsche RS Spyders and with a 14-lap advantage over the fourth-place Lola belonging to Intersport Racing.

Under ideal weather conditions and before a weekend crowd estimated at around 90,000, the red and white No. 27 just kept circling. Managing its tires well was crucial, as was staying out of trouble. The car spun once and it received a penalty for a pitstop infraction, but the traffic settled down as the race progressed. The track continually got more dirty but the Horag No. 27 didn't spin in oil like at least two other cars did. Instead, it just kept running through the heat of the afternoon, the glare of the setting sun, and the darkness of night.

Driver quotes follow:

Didier Theys: "It was a trouble-free race mechanically. This was really our first race this year, and we didn't test enough. The chassis was a bit off, but we had no contact with anybody and mechanically we had zero problems. I'm very pleased."

Fredy Lienhard Sr.: "It was a challenging race for me. I haven't driven in a long time, and a race is always very different than practice because of all the traffic and the competition. This is a man's race track; it is very challenging.

"To come back here and get on the podium was the result of a perfect team and a very good car.

"My times were good; they were actually better than I thought they'd be. You can't expect more. The car was very well prepared. It's wonderful to be on the podium here, with this race's unbeatable ambiance and just all the passion here."

Eric van de Poele: "Today is my birthday, and to get a podium is great. I have had very good luck here; I would have to look up the records but I think I've been on the podium five times here now, or something like that.

"Everything was perfect. We had a perfect car. We weren't quite as competitive as we wanted to be, but this was a perfect run for the team and we're all very happy."

-credit: horag racing

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Series ALMS
Drivers Didier Theys , Eric van de Poele , Fredy Lienhard