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Road Atlanta Gets Intercontinental Cup

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, December 9 2009
Peugeot's participation in Intercontinental Cup is unknown. (File photo courtesy of American Le Mans Series)

Peugeot's participation in Intercontinental Cup is unknown. (File photo courtesy of American Le Mans Series)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

The Automobile Club de L’Ouest, which organizes the Le Mans 24-hour race, has announced a three-race Le Mans Intercontinental Cup championship for LMP1 cars beginning in September of 2010. It includes the 1,000-kilometer race at Silverstone and the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta with a third Asian round to be confirmed later.

The announcement coincided with a statement from Audi that the German company will participate in the newly formed Le Mans Intercontinental Cup with what is now designated as the Audi “R15 plus,” which has revised aerodynamics.

The three-race series for LMP1, the premier prototype category created from rules for the Le Mans 24-hour, is a pre-cursor to a championship planned to include a minimum of six races in Europe, the U.S. and Asia in 2011.

Contingent upon a favorable response of participating teams, the new championship looks to raise the profile of Le Mans prototype racing with the trophy’s worldwide status. The category of sports prototype endurance racing has not had a worldwide series since the last FIA World Sportscar Championship race for Group C cars in 1992. Officially, only the FIA can sanction a world championship, the reason Le Mans is calling its championship an Intercontinental Cup.

The raised profile for the LMP1 prototypes is further focused on encouraging manufacturer participation under the new set of rules at Le Mans for 2011 which emphasize green racing and equivalence between different types of fuel and engines and possibly hybrid power. It remains to be seen if the Le Mans 24-hour will become the centerpiece of the Intercontinental schedule in 2011 or if the Cup will be used to raise interest and entries elsewhere.

The key to success for the Intercontinental Cup will be participation by manufacturers as well as privateers in 2011. In addition to Audi, others anticipating the final 2011 rules with an eye on participation at Le Mans are Peugeot, Aston Martin and Honda. But recently Peugeot has been at odds with the rule makers at the ACO due to the aerodynamics of the Audi R15 and Honda has turned its LMP effort in the American Le Mans Series into an engine development program for its 3.4-liter V8.

Porsche and Toyota remain other possible participants in the LMP1 class in 2011, although they have no cars competing currently.

The inaugural Intercontinental Cup will be part of already scheduled events: the Le Mans Series event at Silverstone on Sept. 13, the Petit Le Mans on Oct. 2 and a round of the Asian Le Mans Series, which was launched this year at an inaugural round in Okayama in late October.

Audi made no commitment to next year’s Sebring 12-hour, which is part of the American Le Mans Series. Racing boss Wolfgang Ulrich stated that the team will run three Audis in the 1,000-kilometer race at Spa as part of the Le Mans Series as a tune-up for the French 24-hour, leaving open the question of Sebring.

The announcement of Road Atlanta’s inclusion in the new championship came shortly after the death of Dave Sloyer, the founder and designer of the internationally respected Georgia circuit, which opened in 1970.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, December 9 2009