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Peugeot Whacks Audi In Petit

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 2 2010

It was a Peugeot kind of day at Road Atlanta on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of the American Le Mans Series)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

Braselton, Ga. – Peugeot double-teamed Audi at Road Atlanta to win the 13th Petit Le Mans and the second round of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup. Stephane Sarrazin and Franck Montagny repeated as victors for Peugeot Sport and were joined on the victory podium this year by Pedro Lamy. Their Peugeot 908 HDi finished nearly a full lap ahead of the sister Peugeot entry and two ahead of the closest Audi R15 TDI.

Once again there was a freakish, decisive moment in the race. With 332 of the 1,000 miles remaining and the sun beginning to set, Audi’s Dindo Capello, a five-time winner, was forced to pit under green when the balaclava used to protect his face in case of fire blocked his vision. The Italian driver explained that a new style of helmet designed to be removed safely by workers in case of accident had shifted his head sock and blocked the vision in his right eye.

Winning driver Montagny declared the Peugeot “put the Audi a lap behind because we were faster.” But until the unscheduled green flag stop, the No. 7 Audi co-driven by Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen had led five times for 88 laps.

Although the winners at Peugeot led the final 94 laps before the largest crowd in Road Atlanta history, Montagny said there was no relaxing on a track crowded by a starting field of 41 cars. On a day with nine safety car periods, the Audi only needed a timely caution to get back on the lead lap. But the final two hours and 31 minutes ran without a safety car interuption. “With all the rules with the safety car, you never know,” said Montagny. “You can’t be safe and you should push all the time. That’s the best way.”

It was the second straight victory for Peugeot, which won last year’s rain-shortened event when the leading Audi spun shortly before a red flag that turned out to be the checkered as well. “We proved were were the fastest last year even though we didn’t go to the end,” said Montagny. “It was exactly the same feeling. We didn’t steal it.”

Once a lap ahead, Peugeot split the strategy between the winning No. 08 entry and the runner-up No. 07 car of Marc Gene, Alexander Wurz and Anthony Davidson in order to keep the Audi and McNish, who replaced Capello, in arrears. After pitting under yellow, the winners gained two laps on the Audi and also one lap on the No. 07 Peugeot, which was in second place and nominated to prevent the Audi from regaining the lead lap by pitting later under green.

Earlier, the No. 9 Audi fell out of the frey when Andre Letterer found the curbing in the esses, which knocked off the R15’s nose. The car eventually finished sixth, 17 laps behind the winners.

The Peugeot Sport and Audi Sport teams next head to China for the final race of the three-round ILMC. “Peugeot wants to win the Cup,” said Sarrazin. “We were first and second at Silverstone and first and second here. We will try to do the same again.”

The ever-competitive GT category was decided when Corvette Racing’s Oliver Gavin passed the Risi Competizione Ferrari of Toni Vilander, who ran out of fuel on the last lap despite a brief stop for fuel shortly before the finish. It was Corvette’s first victory of the season.

A disbelieving Gavin radioed his team when he passed the stranded Ferrari to confirm he had passed the leader. “It’s an amazing result from everybody,” said Gavin. “Everybody on the team and back at the shop kept believing in us.”

In the finale to the American Le Mans Series, championships were decided in all classes. Patron Highcroft Racing clinched the LMP driver’s championship for David Brabham and Simon Pagenaud, who finished first in the LMP2 category and fourth over-all with co-driver Marino Franchitti.

In GT, BMW emerged with a close-fought manufacturer’s championship for the production-based class, winning it by one point over Porsche by virtue of a fourth-place finish by the No. 92 M3 of Rahal Letterman Racing driven by Bill Auberlen, Dirk Werner and Tommy Milner.

“All of our hopes were resting on the one car,” said BMW team owner Bobby Rahal, whose No. 90 entry suffered mechanical issues. “We weren’t the fastest car, probably a sixth-place car. The drivers stood up and the strategy went well and the pit stops went well. We managed to do enough to win.”

Porsche’s Flying Lizard Motorsports team finished fifth, one position behind the BMW. “Their drivers were taking more risks in traffic,” said Jorg Bergmeister, who clinched the driver’s title along with Patrick Long. “The set-up on our car was fine, but the Ferraris were super quick, especially on the straights.”

The day’s nine cautions kept the contenders in GT bunched until the final lap as the lead changed continually among the Ferrari of Risi, the ZR1’s of Corvette Racing and the BMW of Rahal Letterman Racing.

Joining Gavin in the victorious Corvette were Jan Magnussen and Emmanuel Collard. The last-lap dramas did not affect Ferrari driver Gianmaria Bruni’s chances in the driver’s championship. Even a victory would not have been enough to catch Bergmeister and Long, who entered the race with a 22-point margin.

The 911 GT3 R Hybrid of Porsche, which ran as an unclassified, or experimental car, finished five laps behind the GT2 winner. The Hybrid twice experienced problems with its front tires in the opening hour and Michelin began supplying a harder compound than used in testing at the track. The car’s front axle system used to create regenerative electricity weighs 160 pounds and evidently the weight became a problem on the hottest day since teams first arrived for testing.

In LMP Challenge, Level 5 Motorsports won in class and claimed the first season championship. Scott Tucker, Marco Werner and Burt Frisselle took the LMPC race victory in their ORECA FLM09 with team owner Tucker winning the driving title. Tucker entered two cars and jumped in the winning vehicle when the team’s other entry ran into problems, a strategy used all season.

TRG won in GT Challenge, but Black Swan Racing’s Tim Pappas and Jeroen Bleekemolen won the driver’s championship. The TRG Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car of Andy Lally, Henri Richard and Duncan Ende won by 5.283 seconds over the Black Swan Porsche to post the team’s second win of the year. Sebastiaan Bleekemolen co-drove the Black Swan car.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 2 2010
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