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Rebellion Wins An Error-Filled Petit Le Mans

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 21 2012

Rebellion Racing was a big Petit story at Road Atlanta. (Photo courtesy of the American Le Mans Series)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

Rebellion Racing came to the Petit Le Mans looking for its first over-all victory, a task made tougher for the Anglo-Swiss team because the race fell between the WEC rounds at Fuji and Shanghai. Arriving with its third car, Rebellion ran a trouble free race to win from the pole.

After a directive from team manager Bart Hayden to keep Rebellion’s Lotus-Toyota on the track due to few spares and crew members stretched to the limit, pole winner Neel Jani, Nicolas Prost and Andea Belicchi had nary a problem while other teams conducted a comedy of errors amidst the high speeds and potentially dramatic consequences on the twists and dives in north Georgia.

“These guys had a bit of a stern talking to,” said Hayden of his pre-race briefing. “So they stayed out of trouble.”

The team fulfilled its goal of an over-all victory after fighting Audi and Toyota in the WEC. “We have a lot of fourth place finishes because we can’t beat those factory cars,” said Prost. “So this feels great.”

Chief protagonist Pickett Racing fell by the wayside for lengthy repairs once Lucas Luhr came to grief with a GTC Porsche in Turn 1. Luhr had taken the lead on the first round of pit stops after shadowing Jani, but collided with an errant Peter Le Saffre, the same gentleman driver who sent Gunnar Jeannette and the DeltaWing for a wild ride down the hill from Turn 11 in practice.

With help from Romain Dumas, Luhr and Klaus Graf outpaced the carefully driven Rebellion once Muscle Milk’s Honda-ARX-03a returned and clinched the LMP1 title. Once again, the Dyson Racing team suffered teething problems with its Lola-Mazda “flybrid,” starting in the third hour. It finished 56 laps down – just four laps ahead of the Pickett entry.

With a re-built DeltaWing, Jeannette and Lucas Ordonez finished a trouble-free run six laps down in fifth – despite some close calls in traffic.

In LMP2, Level 5 team owner Scott Tucker elected to switch to the 95 chassis set up by Dario and Marino Franchitti, who then stepped into the 055 entry. Along with Luis Diaz and Christophe Bouchut , Tucker passed the minimum distance for the class championship, but then the 95 needed a dead battery replaced and fell behind season-long rival Conquest Endurance.

Conquest in turn lost the victory in the final hour when Martin Plowman dived into the pit entrance nursing a flat tyre, then was given a stop-and-go for his high-speed entry. Afterward, Conquest was disqualified for one driver going beyond the maximum cockpit time.

The DQ elevated the Franchittis and 055 to the over-all podium, despite a stop-and-go penalty given to Dario for avoidable contact in his third stint and hard contact by Marino with the RLL’s 56 BMW in the opening laps. Tucker, who spent much of the afternoon in the 95 entry, gave up the lead in the 055 to Conquest during a desultory evening stint after switching across, then was given a two-lap penalty for passing the safety car.

In the two-car battle for the ELMS title, the Thiriet team needed only a steady pace after Oak Racing’s broken starter stranded its Morgan on the pit road for seven laps. Mathias Beche might have taken third over-all in his final stint versus the error-bound Level 5 entry if not for a penalty for passing under a local yellow.

Core Autosport’s Ryan Dazliel, Alex Popov and Mark Wilkins took the LMPC class win and sixth over-all.

In GT, it was a case of what goes around comes around. This time, the Ferrari driven by Toni Vilander came around to take the checkered flag while running a fuel strategy to give Extreme Speed Motorsports a victory over Corvette Racing. Two years ago Vilander ran out of fuel in the Risi Competizione Ferrari two corners from the finish and Corvette Racing passed his stalled car to take the victory.

“A few tears came down as I came down to the hill to the flag,” said Vilander of the turnaround.

The break that arrived with the day’s seventh safety car period enabled the EMS Ferrari to pit with 52 laps remaining for the prototype leader. The front-running Corvette and BMW of RLL postponed a final stop due to concerns about not making the finish.

The BMW fell behind when the air jack was employed during fueling, forcing Bill Auberlen to take a stop-and-go penalty. Andy Garcia’s Corvette, who finished 28 seconds behind, lost too much ground to Vilander on his stop.

“It’s hard not to be a little disappointed, but that’s how it is,” said Corvette’s Jan Magnussen. “Tonight’s result was an indication of how our season has gone – so close and yet so far.” The other Corvette suffered a broken steering arm while leading and the second BMW lost a lap after getting knocked off early.

The Corvette and BMW were quicker on softer tyres in the rapidly dropping temperatures after sunset, because the Ferrari’s balance did not work well without the harder left side Michelins. The outcome may have been different if a safety car had been called in the closing minutes for the stranded GTC leader of Alex Job Racing. Officials elected to throw a local yellow for the sidelined Porsche driven by Leh Keen, which had lost its electric fire and was not in harm’s way. As a result, NGT Racing came on to win the Porsche class.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 21 2012
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