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de Ferran Rolls Into Retirement A Winner

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 10 2009
Gil de Ferran goes out a winner.

Gil de Ferran goes out a winner.

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

Gil de Ferran drove into retirement at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca by winning a narrow and hotly disputed victory from Adrian Fernandez by 0.662 second. But it was David Brabham and Scott Sharp who ended up with the LMP1 championship of the American Le Mans Series.

Twice Fernandez, driving a LMP2 class Acura, took the lead from de Ferran entering the front straight in the final 20 minutes. But the superior power of the LMP1 Acura enabled de Ferran to return to the lead by the other end of the straight.

Keeping his former CART rival Fernandez at bay for the remainder of the race, de Ferran clinched his team’s fifth victory of the season.

In a tumultuous race in all classes, Porsche driver Joerg Bergmeister knocked the Corvette of Jan Magnussen into the wall on the front straight coming to the checkered flag to win the GT2 class.

Magnussen had slammed the Porsche entering the final corner before Bergmeister firmly held his ground exiting it.

“It was a great day for us,” said de Ferran. “If you think our team has been around only a year and a half, to accomplish what we’ve done as a team was fantastic.”

“There was not much time to get emotional there at the end,” he continued. “We were trying to save some fuel and the tires were a little worn out.”

“Gil has always been a great competitor,” said Fernandez, whose team scored its eighth LMP2 victory of the season. “But I was not close enough on the straight.”

Simon Pagenaud started for de Ferran Motorsports and established the pace of its Acura ARX-02a, setting the fastest race lap during his opening double-stint before handing over to de Ferran, who literally drove off into the sunset during spirited duels with two of the LMP2 entries.

Highcroft Racing, which needed only to finish 70 percent of the race distance to clinch the LMP1 championship, had a minor technical glitch and fell two laps down with a long unscheduled pit stop and then fell another lap down with its out-of-kilter pit sequences. But after the team disconnected the gear positioning sensor under the rear cowling, Brabham was able to run to the finish without problem during the final two hours and 30 minutes.

Throughout the four-hour race, the lighter LMP2 cars played havoc with the larger, more powerful LMP1 class Acura of de Ferran. Both the Lola-Mazda of Dyson Racing and the Acura ARX-01b of Lowe’s Fernandez Racing shadowed the leading No. 66 of the de Ferran team at various stages.

Contact at Turn 10 with the Corvette C6.R driven by Olivier Beretta sent the Dyson entry to the pits and out of the hunt after two hours, 30 minutes. Team owner Fernandez, who may not take up the cudgel of competition again due to the withdrawl of sponsor Lowe’s,  took up the challenge.

He was within 2.4 seconds of de Ferran when the latter made his final pit stop at the three-hour mark. Trying to cope with the cooling temperatures and to save time, de Ferran took fuel only and left the pits on his already warm Michelins.

Fernandez pitted one lap later and took four Michelins. “We don’t have as much power as they do, so we have to do something different,” said Luis Diaz, who started for the Fernandez team.

Trying to avoid one more stop for fuel, de Ferran did not run on full rich in the final hour for his 4.0-liter V8. That allowed Fernandez to close in from a 17-second deficit to the rear wing with 20 minutes remaining.

“We’re doing our best to run (de Ferran) out of fuel,” said Lowe’s team manager Tom Anderson of the ensuing duel.

At the finish, de Ferran held on to match his victory from the pole at the Texas Motor Speedway when he retired from Indy car racing.

In the GT2 category, Corvette’s Magnussen briefly passed leader Bergmeister with seven minutes remaining in the Andretti Hairpin. But the Porsche driver slipped back past in Turn 2 and then held the C6.R at bay.

Magnussen passed again with three laps remaining, but used the pit lane exit and officials intervened, forcing Magnussen to give the position back. That set up the action at the final corner. Although shaken up, Magnussen emerged from his car without serious injury.

“Jan hit me in the last corner,” said Bergmeister. “I think that was the only way he had of passing me. I wasn’t going to let that happen.”

Earlier Bergmeister and Flying Lizard Motorsports teammate Patrick Long clinched the GT2 class championship when the Risi Competizione Ferrari withdrew after radiator damage. Risi’s Pierre Kaffer was leading the GT2 category before contact with the Jaguar of Marc Goosens damaged the radiator.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 10 2009
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