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Rain Makes the Petit Even More Petit

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 26 2009

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By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Braselton, Ga. – The rains that flooded the north Georgia area over the past week washed out the better part of the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Saturday.

Only 467 of the scheduled 1,000 miles were run before heavy rains caused the American Le Mans Series to halt a race for the first time in the circuit’s 11-year, 108-race history.

Then a real endurance contest began – drivers, crew members and fans waited for hours in a driving rain before officials declared the race over at about 8 p.m.

The much anticipated battle between Peugeot, Audi and Acura in the LMP1 class never really materialized.

Audi’s Allan McNish bolted past the Peugeots on the start and cruised at the head of the pack until the heavy rain started falling. Then he spun while trailing the pace car, and the race lead went to the Peugeot of Franck Montagny, who maintained the top spot until the race was stopped. Montagny and his co-driver Stephane Sarrazin took the win ahead of the other Peugeot driven by Pedro Lamy and Nicolas Minassian, while the Audi of McNish and Rinaldo Capello finished third.

It was the first loss for Audi at the Petit and McNish said he felt the race should have been stopped at least five laps before it was.

“When it became wet, it was just torrential rain – far, far too dangerous to drive,” he said. “The car was floating more that actual driving. It was a late decision.”

Dario Franchitti, who wheeled the highest finishing Acura to a sixth-place finish, agreed that the wet track was unsafe for racing.

“The conditions out there were just terrible – probably as bad as I have ever seen,” he said. “I nearly crashed while following the safety car. You get these rivers running across the track down to the esses.”

Montagny said that if the race hadn’t been stopped, which he agreed that it should have been, he and his Peugeot were prepared to hold the lead in the rain.

“If it’s really raining, our car is really good,” he said. “But it was just too dangerous to drive.”

It was the first Petit to not make the 1,000-mile mark and it actually was called with more than an hour left on the clock.

In the LMP2 class, Dyson Racing Mazda driven by Butch Leitzinger, Marino Franchitti and Ben Devlin, finished 13th overall, but scored a class win o ver the Acura of Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz, who led early but fell nearly 30 laps behind because of steering issues with their Acura.

In GT2, the Ferrari driven by Mika Salo, Jaime Melon and Pierre Kaffer took the win, the team’s second straight at Petit and its third in a major endurance race this season, over the BMW of Jorg Muller, Dirk Muller and Tommy Milner.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 26 2009
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