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Petit Le Mans Not A Washout In Points Department

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, September 30 2009
The Petit was cut short but the points were not. (Photo courtesy of the American Le Mans Series)

The Petit was cut short but the points were not. (Photo courtesy of the American Le Mans Series)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

Despite a race that will be remembered as the “petit” Petit Le Mans, full points were awarded participants in the American Le Mans Series event. With 25 points on the line for the winners at the season finale at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway on Oct. 10, the de Ferran Motorsports duo of Gil de Ferran and Simon Pagenaud have to win the four-hour race or finish second if it has any hope of beating the fellow factory Acura team of Patron Highcroft Racing to the LMP1 class championship

Leading by 21 points, Highcroft drivers David Brabham and Scott Sharp only have to run 70 percent of the distance covered by the race winner to win the title, regardless of what the de Ferran team does.

Should the Highcroft team drop out early, the de Ferran team could tie in the points by finishing second, but win the championship due to four over-all victories to three by Highcroft.

In the other remaining title battle in the GT2 class, the Flying Lizard pair of Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Long lead Risi Competizione’s Jaime Melo and Pierre Kaffer by 19 points. The Lizard drivers need only to finish 10th or better to clinch the title. A 10th place finish by the Lizards would result in a tie if the Risi drivers win the race, but Long and Bergmeister would win the championship due to more victories.

The factory Peugeots were leading when the red flag halted the race shortly before half distance. But the race was considered a “full points” event by the American Le Mans Series since the ten-hour time limit clock kept running while crews tried to divert excessive water on the Road Atlanta track following nearly ten days of heavy rain in north Georgia.

The weather played a role in a bizarre turn of events that put the Peugeot of Franck Montagny and Stephane Sarrazin in front. Leader Allan McNish spun his Audi R15 while behind the pace car at Turn 5, then fell to the rear of the line shortly before the red flag halted the race that was never re-started.

Along with the No. 07 Peugeot of Nicolas Minassian and Pedro Lamy, the 908’s had been chasing McNish and co-driver Dindo Capello from the first corner. The Audi duo had figured out the “sweet spot” for the R15 in the treacherous conditions better than their French rivals.

The championship battle for the LMP1 category of the American Le Mans Series also took on an unusual twist. The de Ferran Motorsports Acura suffered heavy damage twice in incidents during the first two hours while the Highcroft Racing Acura, built from a new tub after a heavy crash on Thursday, ran to the conclusion.

After looking certain to lose some points, Highcroft’s David Brabham, Scott Sharp and Dario Franchitti finished sixth, four laps behind the winners.

Team owner Gil de Ferran suffered heavy damage at Turn 10 when the Lola-AER of John Field smashed into his left rear suspension. “I though the line was dry down the inside and it turned out to be a little wet,” said Field, who was penalized by IMSA officials. After losing 13 laps for repairs following that incident, Scott Dixon ran wide at the exit of the Esses and clouted the tire wall, breaking the front end bodywork.

The de Ferran entry barely made the required 70 percent of the winner’s laps to qualify for points, which kept the championship open.

The winning car of Sarrazin and Montagny fell a lap down early when it pitted for tires twice in the opening hour. On three occasions, Montagny got his lap back from the leading Audi on re-starts, only to give it back twice. It finally got back onto the lead lap for good on lap 131 of the 184 run. The posted distance was 394 laps (one thousand miles) or ten hours, whichever came first.

“It was a difficult race,” said Montagny. “There were some problems with the tires.”

The LMP2 category was officially won by the No. 20 Dyson Racing Lola-Mazda of pole winner Marino Franchitti, Butch Leitzinger and Ben Devlin. The sister Lola-Mazda of Chris Dyson and Guy Smith finished nine laps ahead, but the car was not classified, because it used an experimental biobutenal fuel yet to be ratified by officials.

A close GT2 battle was decided in favor of the Risi Competizione Ferrari team by the rain as well. Mika Salo, co-driving with Melo and Kaffer, called for a switch from dry to wet tires during the fifth caution period. None of the other GT2 class contenders followed suit during some drizzling. “I made the call to come in for the wets,” said Salo, who ended up in a lap by himself. “About one and a half laps later it started raining like hell.”

That rain eventually spelled the end of the race. It took the spins of McNish, and the Lola-Judd of Drayson Racing plus a trip into the gravel trap by the No. 3 Corvette to bring out the red flag.

It was the first of 12 Petit Le Mans which failed to go the 1,000-mile distance.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, September 30 2009
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