Peugeot Scores Controversial Win At Petit Le Mans
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Petit Le Mans ended early and in controversy when a battle for the lead left Romain Dumas and his Audi R18 TDI crashed against the barrier on the back straight of Road Atlanta.
The incident, which occurred with 255 miles remaining in the 1,000-mile race, paved the way for a Peugeot victory and enabled the French factory to win the manufacturer’s championship of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup while Peugeot Sport Total claimed the team title with one race remaining in Zhuhai China.
The race-defining moment began when Peugeot driver Franck Montagny was slightly balked by a GTC Porsche at the exit of Turn 7 and had to lift off the accelerator. Dumas, who had been looking for a way past the Peugeot for several laps, began to pull alongside, but Montagny moved left to protect his lead. Dumas’s left rear fender was forced into the trailing Porsche, which turned the Audi into the barriers.
The victory, shared by Montagny, Stephane Sarrazin and Alexander Wurz, gave Peugeot three straight victories in the Petit Le Mans against its arch-rival at the Le Mans 24-hour.
“I know that’s why Franck Montagny doesn’t drive for me and why he will never drive for me,” said an irate Wolfgang Ulrich, the director of Audi Sport. “It was a proper fight until (then).”
Montagny acknowledged the the Audi of Dumas was faster due to a the choice of Michelins taken on the previous pit stop. But made no apologies for his move. “I am sorry about what happened. But you can’t say the Peugeot has made a bad move.”
In a series where the race director, Beaux Barfield, is well known for assigning penalties for blocking, officials evidently considered the accident a racing incident. The straight bends slightly to the left at the point where the accident occurred and Montagny said he was following the circuit’s path. Also, he was not in position to judge whether the slower Porsche might create problems for Dumas, whose decision to shoot the gap ended poorly.
Like his team boss, Dumas expressed his doubts about Montagny’s motives. “It was my chance. When he saw I would pass both of the cars (including the slower Porsche) he moved to the left,” he said. “I didn’t expect him to move into me on the straight.” The two Frenchmen met in the pits shortly after the incident. “‘Why do you want to end it like this with two or three hours to go?'” said Dumas.
The private Team Oreca Matmut Peugeot 908 Hdi-FAP finished in second place, five laps behind, followed by the Lola of Aston Martin Racing entry, six laps behind.
The event held in front of a circuit packed by a record crowd estimated at 36,000 on race day, had come down to two-horse race after technical troubles sidelined the No. 2 Audi and the No. 7 Peugeot. On a sunny day when the large starting field and disparity in speeds helped generate nine cautions, Tom Kristensen was bumped off the track at the entrance to the esses after 90 minutes. The No. 2 R18 TDI suffered damage that dropped it two laps off the pace when the right rear bodywork was repaired on the pit road. The car later developed clutch problems.
The No. 7 Peugeot exited early with gearbox problems and completed only 78 laps.
Team strategy and speed had kept the No. 8 Peugeot in the lead from lap 200 until lap 296 before the decisive incident. Once the No. 1 Audi crashed, the No. 8 Peugeot ran unchallenged to the finish. Other leaders included the No. 1 Audi, the No. 7 Peugeot, the lone Aston Martin Racing entry and the Matmut Peugeot.
The GTE race ended with the AF Corse Ferrari leading the Flying Lizard Porsche 911 GT3 RSR and the No. 55 BMW M3 of BMW Motorsports; the trio was 6.8 seconds apart at the finish following the race’s final caution. Joerg Bermeister made an outside pass at Turn 7 in the Lizard Porsche on the penultimate lap to pass Dirk Werner’s BMW to gain second place behind the winning Ferrari Italia, driven by pole winner Gianmaria Bruni, Giancarlo Fisichella and Pierre Kaffer.
The lead in the GTE class moved back and forth throughout the day, but the two BMW’s each suffered cut left rear Dunlop tires, which cost track position. Other front runners were the Ferrari of Extreme Speed Motorsports and the Ferrari of Luxury Racing.
In the under-subscribed LMP2 class, Level 5 Motorsports HPD-ARX01g drivers Scott Tucker, Luis Diaz and Marino Franchitti won by eight laps over the United Autosports entry of Zak Brown, Stefan Johansson and Mark Patterson.
The LMPC victory was claimed by Ken Dobson, Henri Richard and Ryan Lewis of PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports by a margin of 0.172 seconds over the No. 89 Intersport Racing entry. In GTC, Black Swan Racing’s Jeroen Bleekemolen, Tim Pappis and Sebastiaan Bleekmolen won by 8.130 seconds over the Alex Job Racing team of Leh Keen, Bill Sweedler and Brian Wong.
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